| 2.4°C Dublin

Election year wheeling and dealing is about to begin


Cork man Christy Cooney was the hot favourite to win the last election race before being pipped by Nickey Brennan however he is now in the race to succeed Brennan

Cork man Christy Cooney was the hot favourite to win the last election race before being pipped by Nickey Brennan however he is now in the race to succeed Brennan

Cork man Christy Cooney was the hot favourite to win the last election race before being pipped by Nickey Brennan however he is now in the race to succeed Brennan

Election fever is in the air thanks to events in the good old USA, and back home the GAA, too, is engrossed in its own caucuses, primaries and eventually an election.

On April 12 in Sligo, the GAA will choose a president-elect, who will take over from Nickey Brennan one year later. This is a ritual as old as the GAA itself and presidential elections are part and parcel of the folklore of the association by now.

Generally, by the time the election takes place, every third year, it is fairly certain who is going to win because working out the voting patterns is not very difficult. But now and again the calculations go wrong and this is what happened at the most recent contest in 2005, when Corkman Christy Cooney was the hot favourite but was defeated by Nickey Brennan.

That was the year when Congress was also debating the opening of Croke Park, which aroused such passions throughout the GAA. It was generally felt that the ultra-hard line against opening the stadium which Cork advanced in that debate did serious damage to Mr Cooney and cost him the presidency.

But in keeping with yet another GAA tradition, he is back to contest the position again this year, and if the trends of history are maintained he should win this time because the majority of presidents have been people who were runners-up at the previous election.


Indeed, many candidates actually contest their first presidential election purely to put down a marker for the next one because they have no hope of being elected at their first attempt. The whole system of electing a GAA president is a bit archaic and hardly in keeping with the modern, progressive organisation that the GAA is at the present time.

For a start the elections break one of the GAA's own rules, which outlaws canvassing for elected positions. Canvassing for a presidential election is really something else. Not alone does the candidate himself openly canvass in every nook and cranny of the GAA but there is a convoluted system of canvassing that often stretches down to individual congress delegates being contacted at their home or place of work or through an intermediary for that all important vote.

Most county boards meet to decide what candidate to vote for and then instruct their delegates, who can number between five and 10 per county, to vote accordingly. In theory, therefore, it should be quite easy to tot up the voting intentions of the various counties and arrive at a projected result. But in reality very few counties impose a voting whip whereby one person would collect and inspect the votes of the delegates to see if instructions had been obeyed. Very often, one or more members of a delegation will break ranks because he has been canvassed privately or has some connection with a candidate.

Apart from the various county delegations, there is a large section of miscellaneous voters who are often more amenable to being canvassed than county boards. For instance, there is a huge number of foreign voters, mainly from Britain and the USA. Indeed there are more foreign votes than there are votes in Connacht.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Then we have the 50 or so members of the Central Council who have individual votes, and many of these people are experts at playing hard to get. Some county boards try to insist that their Central Council delegate vote in accordance with the county's stance but these delegates are a law unto themselves and like to show their independence.

With all these various components to a presidential voting list it is little wonder that which ever man wins the election has a lot of favours to pay back during his term of office and often a new president spends a lot of his time visiting counties who had voted for him or doing a turn for some prominent GAA officer who had swung his county's votes for the new man.


It is always interesting to observe the appointments made by a new president to the myriad of committees in the GAA. On occasion I have counted about 500 people involved in these committees, most of which run in tandem with each president, and these provide a new president with lots of scope for rewarding some of his supporters.

Incoming GAA presidents don't pay for votes -- yet, anyway -- but they are obliged to pay in kind for support from some individuals or counties. That is the way the system has always worked, though you will be hard pressed to get any president to acknowledge that.

Traditionally, the GAA presidency more or less rotates between the four provinces, although this is not set in stone. If Mr Cooney had been elected in 2005 it would have given us two successive Munster presidents. Of the last 20 GAA presidents seven were from Leinster, five each from Ulster and Munster and three from Connacht and on only two occasions did a province produce successive presidents. These were Dr Joe Stuart (1958) and Hugh Byrne (1961) from Leinster, and Seamus Ryan (1967) and Pat Fanning (1970) from Munster. Rather amazingly, Munster went 27 years without a president prior to Sean Kelly's election in 2003.

There is a traditional route for GAA presidents through the maze that is GAA politics. Usually they are former county chairmen who go on to become chairman of their provincial council. That would usually occupy at least 10 years of their GAA political life and there would not be many tricks of the trade they would not have acquired by then. In the first vote at least for a president, provinces tend to vote for the candidate from their own province, if only to be good sports. This year's election, therefore, is particularly interesting because it looks as if there will be no candidate from either Connacht or Ulster, which means that counties from those provinces will be seriously canvassed for their support. As of now it looks as if two Munstermen -- Christy Cooney and Sean Fogarty from Tipperary -- as well as Liam O'Neill from Laois, the current Chairman of the Leinster Council, will be the candidates next April.

With two provinces having no candidate and the Munster vote being split between Cork and Tipperary candidates, Liam O'Neill could be in a strong position to take an early lead but because of all the wheeling and dealing involved in the election of a GAA president, one never can tell. Christy Cooney is keeping a very low profile this time around, perhaps because he knows he only has to add a small number of votes to the figure he achieved the last time to win the race.

Despite all the "hoofling" that precedes a GAA presidential election, the association has been fortunate to come up with a list of very impressive leaders in recent years and there is no reason to think that 2008 will be any different.