Antrim ‘coup’ aims to boost underachievers
An audacious 'takeover' of a county board may well be unprecedented on the scale that a group of concerned Antrim GAA members have achieved.
'Saffron Vision', a group that set out a new vision for the county only six weeks ago, have been successful with six of the eight candidates for key positions that it put forward at convention. They have promised reform in a county that has consistently punched below its weight in GAA terms, despite its size and population.
The 'coup' has gathered momentum since they first unveiled their strategy in October and their intention to run candidates in a manner that could draw parallels to a political party.
"The feeling was that unless we got a few through the door we couldn't really effect any change," said new chairman Collie Donnelly, a former Antrim hurler who has his own electrical distribution business.
Many of the candidates put forward come from professional and business backgrounds. New treasurer Pol MacCana is a qualified chartered accountant with his own practice. Critically, their experience at GAA administrative level has been limited.
"We're GAA people first. You're trying to move things forward. You need a skill-set. That's no disrespect to fellas who have been doing the job previously. They are all good volunteers," Donnelly added.
A similar but smaller scale challenge mounted in Kildare ahead of last weekend's convention narrowly failed when Dermot Reilly and his 'running mate' or prospective vice-chairman Morgan O'Callaghan gained significant momentum but eventually lost out to the incumbents Ger Donnelly and Mick Gorman.
"We spent six weeks getting around to over 30 of the 44 clubs," said the new Antrim chairman. "That in itself was very enlightening to hear the challenges and aspirations."
He said the group's concerns were "very much based on underachievement for too long."
"For too many years people keep asking, 'Why can't Antrim do something different?' What's wrong with this, what's wrong with that? Unless you are prepared to do something about it, you will always be wondering."
Donnelly and his group have prioritised Casement Park's redevelopment and have already initiated meetings with interested groups in the area.
"We have been plagued with Casement Park, issues around the Dunsilly project, footballers in Division 4," he said. "We haven't had a county ground in three years. We've missed six county finals. It's very hard when you have had no base. We're hoping new faces and a clean sheet might change things."
Donnelly replaces Jim Murray whose five-year term as chairman has ended.
Penetrating Belfast with a greater footprint is also high on their list with a warning from an Ulster Council official Ryan Feeney that the GAA will be in "big trouble" in Belfast in 20 years time if it doesn't get a foothold.
Meanwhile, Tyrone secretary Dominic McCaughey has raised concerns over the growing status of paid trainers and coaches within the association. In his annual report to convention next week, McCaughey says the GAA has become more of a "training and coaching industry" than a games association.
While welcoming the expertise they can provide, he feels the price that is being paid for this has become too great. Mirroring sentiment at central level, he focuses his concerns on the training-to-game ratios for many club players.
"At the most basic level, of two training sessions per week over the period January to October - when official competitions have concluded for almost all teams - a senior club player will have endured a minimum of 80 training sessions and will have played in 16 games, a simple ratio of 5:1.
"While it is acknowledged that some players are satisfied with this situation and are happy to use their membership of a panel to gain or maintain fitness only, many are beginning to ask whether this is what the Association should be about.
"If the great majority of players want to participate in games rather than in training sessions, it is they who should convey this message to the coaches or the managers."
McCaughey makes the suggestion that clubs should not be allowed to source a coach or trainer from outside, something that was raised in a county context by director-general Páraic Duffy during his report on the GAA's Amateur Status and Payments to Team Managers, published in 2012, but got little traction.
"There should be a restriction placed on clubs in the use of coaches/trainers from outside units."