Some burning issues desperately in need of firefighting measures
1)Ticket prices need to be reduced quickly
IT seems incredible that only 25 years ago, just 8,205 people turned up to the 1985 All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Cork and Galway. The subsequent explosion in GAA attendances has been phenomenal.
These days you could not imagine less than 40,000 turning up for an All-Ireland semi-final, but with the economic climate the way it is, the loyalty of supporters should not be taken for granted.
Last year, protests at ticket prices really gathered momentum before the Kilkenny/Cork semi-final, where fans were charged up to €45 for a seat. The GAA argue that prices have not risen for five years and say 82 per cent of ticket revenue is reinvested in counties and clubs. But as 2010 progressed they had to significantly soften their stance, particularly after broadsides from players like John Mullane.
The GAA has pointed out that if they dropped tickets by €5 over one weekend, they could lose about €5m in revenue.
This year, though, they need to forget about margins and income streams and understand that no PR strategy will compensate for what is most needed now -- action. A substantial price reduction in tickets before the National Leagues start and another drop for the championship would set them off to a great beginning in the minds of their followers.
2) PAYMENTS TO MANAGERS ISSUE NEEDS TO BE resolved
anecdotal evidence suggests that some inter-county managers are receiving expenses of between €50,000 and €120,000 per annum for training teams.
But there will be little chance of Central Council voting to formalise a method of payments to managers, particularly when many counties have never paid their managers anything other than legitimate expenses.
The GAA has three options: Continue to sweep the issue under the carpet, allow the position of senior inter-county manager to become a full-time paid position or introduce an extra allowance to take into account the effort they have to put in to manage an inter-county team.
Páraic Duffy is particularly keen that some action be taken so 2011 might see progress in this area. It badly needs to happen.
3) PROPER MEDICAL FACILITIES AT ALL GROUNDS
This may sound like a fairly ambitious one, but it's as relevant now as it was 20 years ago when GAA grounds had a first-aid kit and little else.
Most key venues are currently well supplied with medical equipment but in an era where even junior club players invest massive energy into preparation, not every venue is equipped to deal with emergencies. Players deserve excellent on-site medical facilities -- not just a green box with Deep Heat inside.
Last year, Roscommon midfielder Mark O'Carroll suffered a broken kneecap playing against London in the Connacht championship. In his annual report to convention, board secretary Brian Stenson was highly critical of the medical facilities which were on hand in the London venue, Ruislip.
"This injury was unquestionably accidental but the lack of a stretcher and medical facilities in Ruislip left a sour taste," he wrote. "It was also disappointing that, having stayed in a London hospital for three days, it was then necessary for our own team doctor, Dr Martin Daly, to intervene and arrange for the transfer of Mark to a Dublin hospital for treatment."
St Oliver Plunketts footballer Seaghan Kearney told his own story on these pages recently. He went into cardiac arrest and the batteries in the club's defibrillator, which had been in situ since 2004 after the death of Cormac McAnallen, were almost out of power. Luck was on his side, though, as there was just enough power left to revive the player.
County venues need top-class medical rooms and clubs must keep their safety equipment up to date. At the moment, there's definitely a more laissez-faire attitude to health and safety at that level.
4) MORE GAMES FOR CLUB
Club players are no longer happy to be left without games for long spells every year and they will drift away from football and hurling.
In Wexford last year, certain senior teams didn't start pre-season training until March for a championship that often remains static for three months during the summer. Between league and championship they might get just eight matches all season.
In Tipperary, the 2010 under 21 county final will not be played until later this month -- that's fine considering how many Kilruane MacDonaghs and Thurles Sarsfields players were involved in other competitions last year. But what about other players on these teams who have not pucked a ball for three months or more?
There are players who don't get enough games. Some will understandably switch to soccer where they can play 40 times a season in league and cup competitions. They'd be lucky to get 10 outings with their local hurling or football team. This remains a ground-level worry for the GAA but there are ways out of the dilemma.
Running the All-Ireland under 21 hurling championship earlier in the year would be a help. The prospect of rotating club and county games every second week is also feasible.
Christy Cooney set up a committee to look at this area and it has spent the last two years preparing a new system to streamline all club and county fixtures with the ambition that rank-and-file players will get a properly planned programme of games every year. The sooner it can be fully implemented the better.
5) SCRAP THE WINTER
A recent Sunday Independent survey showed that 13 counties trained right through November and December. It demonstrated that the moratorium is half-baked, too loose for managers to resist exploiting and we know that many tricks are devised to dance around it.
No one in the GAA is really bothered to demand the names of the perpetrators and even Cavan, who were openly caught flouting the ban, had great confusion in identifying what players were actually present at their trials. For many in the GAA, Cavan's only crime was to be caught.
County boards turned a blind eye to it all but refused to pay expenses or provide food for players because they could not officially be seen to condone the rule being broken. It left players complaining of their treatment throughout the winter. One inter-county player even mentioned his hectic schedule on his Facebook page.
The GAA should either bring the ban forward by a month and let teams return to training in December (which they are doing already anyway) or scrap it altogether.
The initial plan was to deal with player burn-out but it's not dealing with that at all as college players -- who are the ones most at risk and those the system was designed to help -- are training harder than ever for Sigerson or Fitzgibbon Cups.
6) FINALLY EMBRACE VIDEO TECHNOLOGY
Last year's championship was clouded in controversy. Officials made poor calls far too often and there have been cries for the introduction of technology such as Hawkeye, already used in tennis and cricket.
It will be at least 2013 before the prospect of utilising Hawkeye in the All-Ireland championships becomes a reality, but the process needs to be explored with gusto this year. Some sort of plan or proposal should be ready for Congress in Mullingar.
The stakes are getting higher in the GAA, but the mistakes are becoming more glaring.
In the football championship, some high-profile ones had an impact on the outcome of games: Benny Coulter's goal against Kildare was illegal; Kerry's goal against Down was wrongly disallowed; and then there was Joe Sheridan's 'goal' in the Leinster final. In the 2009 hurling final, Kilkenny were awarded a penalty that should never have been given.
The technology will initially only be used for controversies surrounding scores, but that would be a start, at least. And the GAA can use the advertising space around the screen as a sponsorship board like Rolex at Wimbledon to offset the costs of implementation. It has to be the next big leap for the Association.
7) LET OTHER SPORTS USE GAA TRAINING GROUNDS
CROKE PARK badly needs to update its rule book and stop punishing units for leasing their grounds to other sporting bodies.
Last year, Nemo Rangers came under fire for letting the Irish rugby team train on their premises.
Just recently, Faythe Harriers were put under the microscope for letting Wexford Youths FC train on one of their floodlit pitches, prompting this reaction from Mick Wallace: "What are we coming to when we can't do some honest business? The cost of running any club these days is so much. Why shouldn't they (Faythe Harriers) be allowed to make as much bread as they can? Unfortunately, there are people still living like it's the 1950s."
Under rule 5.1, clubs cannot rent their facilities out to other sports. Amidst the current economic chaos, clubs have to use every resource at their disposal and if another sport is prepared to pay to use facilities then it makes no sense to turn away that extra revenue.
8) WESTMEATH NEED TO END HORRIBLE LOSING STREAK
Westmeath's long search for a league win stretches back to the 2008 Division 2 final and if they don't get early points on the board next month, they could plummet even further into the depths.
The Lakemen lost all seven of their Division 1 games in 2009 and a last-day 2010 defeat to Tipperary ensured that last year was another pointless season, ultimately resulting in the removal of Brendan Hackett from the hotseat.
What a dismal freefall from grace it has been. And just look at their upcoming National League fixture list -- if they don't shape up soon, another drop to the basement of the league cannot be ruled out.
They face Louth in the opening round of the Division 3 campaign and then Cavan, Tipperary, Wexford, Waterford, Limerick and Offaly in what is probably the most evenly-matched and competitive of all four divisions.
The county board is not exactly enamoured with the players either. Following their vote of no confidence in Hackett, county secretary Pat Lynagh's annual convention report was thinly-veiled.
"After a traumatic year, we ended up having two managers, relegation to Division 3 and winning just two games. Does anyone think that our management was the only problem at this stage?" he asked.
This county won All-Ireland under 21 honours, a Leinster crown and three Division 2 league titles over the past 10 years. They need to sort themselves out.
9) A QUIET YEAR FOR PAUL GALVIN
Paul Galvin had the whole country talking about him after his appearance on the Late Late Show and the Galvinised documentary. Now everyone has an opinion on him, his ultra-tight jeans and his taste in music.
In our eyes the most fascinating footage of the whole documentary was a reminder of the massive impact he had off the bench against Cork in the Munster final. The man is a class footballer. But he has now left himself wide open to abuse from opponents and supporters; for Paul Galvin, the most important thing about 2011 is not getting sent off and being available for his team because they'll need him more than ever.
More people than ever will be looking out for him now and it's to Kerry he should devote all his energies -- they will require full service from him with so many big names having exited lately.
Paul Galvin just needs to let his football do the talking. On the field he is class. What he does off the field is his own business.
10) GALWAY HURLING NEEDS TO BREAK THROUGH
John McIntyre's team will stay in Leinster until 2013 and Galway's minor and under 21 teams should now follow suit by also travelling east.
Every year, the westerners flatter to deceive, but they have definitely been more competitive and battle-hardened since joining the eastern province.
Now hurling badly needs them to threaten Tipp and Kilkenny, particularly with Cork dropping away and Waterford in the midst of tactical and personnel transition. With Offaly, Wexford, Limerick, Clare and Dublin a level below the top two, we badly need Galway to emerge as a top-three team.
They have one of the greatest hurlers in the game in Joe Canning and a prolonged rest over the winter will surely have him buzzing. They've sorted out the full and centre-back positions with the rise of Shane Kavanagh (now injured) and Tony óg Regan and also have seriously fast forwards like éanna Ryan and Damien Hayes to threaten any defence.
If not this year, when for Galway hurling?
Sunday Indo Sport