Patrick O’Sullivan calls on clubs to treat the recruitment of club referees with the same importance they appoint club officers and team managers
Kerry GAA’s flagship stadium, Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, is in need of upgrade and remedial works in the region of €72 million, club delegates have been told at Tuesday night’s annual Convention.
Chairman Patrick O'Sullivan told delegates that a “major refit upgrading” is required to make the stadium “modern and comfortable for our spectators” and also to "entice Irish and International entertainment acts to this county”.
Addressing delegates, Mr O’Sullivan said: “Over the years many new developments have taken place enhancing player and spectator facilities, most notably in recent times being the new dressing rooms and terracing at the Lewis Road end of stadium.
“The stadium is regarded as home for the Kerry senior football team when championship begins. However, right now the stadium needs a major refit upgrading it to a multi event centre to cater for the needs of the people of Kerry into the future. It needs to be modern and comfortable for our spectators not only to enjoy big GAA games but also to entice some of the finest Irish and International entertainment acts to this county. To do that the stadium has to be modernised and upgraded.
“Since I returned as chairman of Kerry GAA we have met the current Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Sports Minister Jack Chambers and Minister for Education Norma Foley. These meetings were arranged by local TD Brendan Griffin. Brendan also arranged for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to visit the stadium. All these meetings have been positive towards the planned project. Mr Varadkar spoke in the Dail of his visit to the stadium and we also met Moira Murrell Chief Executive of Kerry County Council and updated the Council of our plans. Projected costing for the upgrading of the stadium is in the region of €72.5 million. In January there will be a more detailed presentation on how we propose to fund the project.
“During my previous term as chairman, we upgraded the playing surface of Austin Stack Park, modernised the floodlighting, constructed a new covered terrace at the John Mitchels end of the ground and upgraded the office facilities in the Pavilion. Plans are now being put in place to upgrade the terracing at the Horan’s end of the ground.”
On the issue of referees, Mr O’Sullivan called out abuse of match officials – of which there have been incidents of such in Kerry – and appealed for clubs to recruit more referees.
“Our referees are one of the most important and necessary parts of our games. Over the last number of months referees have received uncalled for abuse. There is no place for this within our games,” the chairman said.
“On the issue of the recruitment of referees, clubs will have to find a way of getting referees. The Referees Committee has tried everything to recruit new referees but it all seems to fall on deaf ears. My advice to clubs is that when ye are having your AGMs and when you are recruiting new officers and new managers make sure you make the same drive to find a referee to represent your club.”
The chairman was somewhat critical of the GAA hierarchy in his address, in particular Croke Park’s failing, as he sees it, to adequately deal with the grading issues for underage players.
“It was decided at Congress in February that there would be a Special Congress to decide on the age groups for minors which will also has affect the Under 20 grades. Seven months later a document appears on one of the most important decisions for the association in years. It shows a lack of respect for County Boards and their clubs when an email was forwarded to make up their minds on the age groups,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“There was a feeling in the room at Congress that day that change was in the air. The most disappointing aspect of not having the Special Congress is that it shows how far removed the leadership is when one of the most important decisions the Association has to make in years is down for decision. The feeling in Kerry is that 18 is the right age for the minor grade.
He added; “Central Council used to be the most important committee in the Association. However, over the last number of years management has eroded its value. Decision making on important matters are now being made by the management committee and being put on the agenda at the last minute. The late [Kerry chairman] Gerald McKenna told me one time that “Central Council was the heart soul of the Association”.
On the matter of the controversial move to a ‘split-season’ in the Association’s games calendar, Mr O’Sullivan said: “There are mixed views on the split season. The players I spoke with are in favour of the split season but it comes with its own problems. The lack of media attention for our national games after the inter county season finishes in July is a concern - the national media just doesn’t have the same interest in Club and county championships - while the difficulties in sourcing Hotel Accommodation and cost of same in Dublin during the peak holiday season are issues for both the County Boards and GAA supporters.
“The 2023 season will see group stages in the Championship format while the League and Provincial championship will also have a big impact on the Championship. Games will come thick and fast requiring larger panel sizes due to injuries and the quick turn-around of games. Getting rid of League Finals is not the answer especially when counties have already voted in February regarding the format for 2023. We will have to wait and see how the split season will work in 2023.”