The New York GAA made an important decision, though perhaps an overdue one, at its annual convention last Thursday. Specifically, the delegates voted overwhelmingly to end a policy that allowed Junior "A" clubs to in effect hire weekend mercenaries from Ireland to strengthen their lineouts for important late-season fixtures.
Regrettably, the delegates, when given the opportunity to make the same decision for the Senior Division, demurred, citing fears that attendance at Gaelic Park would drop precipitously without the drawing card of big-name players. Though such fears are not unfounded, they certainly are shortsighted. At least the division left the door open to revisit the issue at a future convention.
The delegates’ lopsided 37-3 vote to boot the so-called weekend sanctions from the Junior Division was not a surprising one. The weekend sanction rule had brought the division to the brink of collapse, with perhaps as few as five teams set to compete in 2001 if the motion was defeated. The more financially better-off club teams are traditionally able to lure Irish players to New York, thus gaining a clear — and, many say, unfair — advantage. The result is that the other clubs become discouraged and begin to drop out of the competition.
Nothing so drastic faces the Senior Division, but the basic issue of fairness remains. When players train hard for a spot on the team, it’s disheartening to be cast aside when the ringers arrive from Ireland. And when a team of home-grown players enjoys a successful season, should its dominance suddenly be threatened by an influx of players whose only connection to the New York scene is an Aer Lingus ticket provided by a club with deep pockets?
Under the leadership of Monty Moloney, the New York GAA has wisely begun building toward a long-term, sustainable future. A logical next step along that path is to discard the weekend sanction rule altogether and create a level financial and sporting playing field for all. Fans will miss the chance to see top Irish players, to be sure, but that is a small price to pay to build a strong, committed and expanding base of talented players, clubs and fans in the Big Apple.
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