Eugene McGee: All change as five-year rule kicks in

The GAA county convention season, which has been in full flow in recent weeks, is taking a heavy toll on big-name officers all over the country. It compares with the pheasant shooting season in November; there are so many casualties.

The reason for the mass exodus is the five-year rule, which was bulldozed through Congress in the first half of this decade. This rule forces officers in the GAA to resign their position when they have served five successive years in office.

For the first few years of this new edict, there was little appreciable change because few officers had actually been five years in power while the five-year cut-off only started a couple of years ago. But, every serving officer who was in office when the five-year rule was enacted, became liable for the chop this year. And what a chop we have witnessed -- in nearly every county in Ireland!

Numerous leading county board officers have had to leave their posts, some of whom had held the same positions for between 20 and 40 years. Cork's full-time secretary Frank Murphy, for instance, had to retire from membership of the Munster Council under the five-year rule recently after over 30 years in that particular position.

But it takes more than a five-year limitation rule to dispose of the diehard GAA official. That is why we have had a system of musical chairs in operation at county conventions in the past couple of seasons as officers who were forced to vacate one position, duly got to work at canvassing for a different position on the county board.

Getting rid of a long-serving GAA officer is harder than removing a bishop at the present time.

So people who were county chairmen have switched to Central Council or Provincial Council positions, where they can proceed to serve for another five years if they wish. And they could continue rotating in this manner for the next 25 or more years, if they manage to continue geting elected.

This might lead some people to believe that the practice of serving long stints in GAA administration is not a thing of the past after all -- but that is not exactly true.

Certainly a county chairman or secretary may move to a different role in the county board but, in effect, they will now hold a largely honorary position with very limited clout by comparison to being a county chairman or secretary.

The overall reason for implementing the five-year rule was to encourage more young blood into GAA administration and there is no doubt that aim has largely been achieved. It has also facilitated the election of female officers of county boards in recent years.

There is now a regular flow of new officers at county board level and there is still scope for long-serving officers to play an important role in administration in a different capacity.

Nowadays, most county chairman are only too happy to leave the position after five years because the job has become so consuming. Several, indeed, do not even serve five years and the Cavan chairman, Philip Smith, recently retired after three.

What has made '09 so unusual is that, in some counties, the county board executive has been decimated as a large batch of officers fell foul of the five-year rule at the same time.

But, as can be seen in nearly every county, there are plenty of people willing to come forward to join the GAA's political wing so there will be no famine of county board or higher officers just yet.

Having said that, it was noticeable this year that many county conventions failed to appoint their full quota of officers and in Louth recently, four positions still remain to be filled.

Many GAA people now believe that the local democracy, which was the cornerstone of the Association for over a century, is being weakened as more and more edicts come from the GAA's central administration in Croke Park.

This, of course, is simply replicating what is happening in local political democracy where county and urban councils have lost a huge amount of their power to central authority and many are merely messenger boys for Government.

The appointment of full-time county secretaries in nearly all counties in recent years has greatly improved administration in these counties and these officers are employed for a seven-year stint, so the 40-year county secretary is a thing of the past.

County boards have often been a maligned species, but they have served the GAA well over the years.

However, weaknesses in financial management have bedevilled many county boards in recent years with several teetering on the brink of insolvency, so it's understandable that Croke Park would want to keep a tight rein on county board activity.

The same applies to GAA clubs with several instances of these units in serious financial trouble because of badly judged development plans and large borrowings towards the end of the Celtic Tiger years.

- If you are a native of Ballybay, Co Monaghan and interested in the GAA there, then you will never be shy about proclaiming it.

John McAviney was such a person and he passed away at the weekend after a long illness.

John was a brilliant sports photographer with local and national newspapers and was a regular feature at big Ulster and Croke Park games for over 20 years. He was a big man in every sense and his love for Gaelic football enabled him to capture the nuances of the game with wonderful pictures over the years. His friendly presence will be sadly missed at GAA venues.