'Payments' still top of the agenda for Cooney
Congress 2011 was flagged as likely to be one of the most uneventful for years, but instead it took on an independent life of its own, delivering some very significant decisions across a wide range of GAA activity.
They relate to discipline, replays, referees, fixtures and the closed season, while president Christy Cooney threw out some thought-provoking ideas in his address, including the possibility of redrawing provincial boundaries for competition purposes while re-examining if Dublin's structures were adequate to meet the demands of such a large population area.
He also returned to the controversial area of illegal payment to managers, describing it as a "cancer running through our organisation".
It was a lively session on Saturday and it took a further dramatic turn when two banner-carrying protesters entered Congress hall in the Park Hotel, Mullingar, to voice their objections to the GAA's handball plans for Croke Park. They stood their ground for a few minutes before being escorted out.
Electronic voting was in place for the first time, allowing delegates to zap their way through motions. They voted '1' for acceptance and '2' for rejection through 49 motions, some of which produced surprising results.
Out went extra-time in early-round provincial championship games and All-Ireland quarter-finals, as well as the option of asking referees to review decisions on video, while the November-December training ban and the six-day turnaround for two of the beaten provincial football finalists remain in place.
Given the many objections -- primarily from team managers -- to the training ban, it was somewhat surprising it was retained in its original form. Laois proposed to allow squads return to training on December 1 and while it won the vote, it failed to get the required two-thirds majority.
"Counties have voted to retain it so that's the democratic decision of our organisation. Now, let's not be hypocritical -- we must deliver on it," said Cooney.
Both Cooney and director general Paraic Duffy were opposed to the proposal to restore replays for early-round and All-Ireland quarter-final championship games that finish level, but Congress voted for change, which will come into effect next year.
"We don't need more inter-county fixtures on our programme," said Cooney. "I believe this is the wrong decision, but it's the view of Congress and we will implement it next year. We couldn't put it in place this year because fixtures schedules are made at national and local level."
Longford's John Bannon led the call to remove referees from the disciplinary process once they had submitted their match report. The former All-Ireland referee proposed that if the disciplinary bodies wanted to investigate an incident, via the video, they should proceed on their own.
He said it was unfair to ask referees to revisit decisions they had made in a match situation and recalled his own experience after the 2009 Cork versus Tyrone All-Ireland semi-final when he was asked to review an incident he had already deemed to be a yellow-card offence only.
In the end, Congress went even further than Bannon proposed. From now on, the disciplinary authorities will have no authority to revisit any incident where the referee has made a decision, however wrong the video might show it to be. However, they will still have the power to investigate an incident that the referee has missed.
Cooney's suggestion that provincial boundaries be examined for competition purposes is certain to generate widespread debate.
He said that the success of including Antrim and Galway in the Leinster hurling championship raised some interesting issues about further realignments.
"Do we need a more even spread of counties in each province? Should we dispense with the ancient geographical borders of the four provinces and seek instead to realign our provinces along more practical lines. Let's debate it and see what comes out of it."
He also questioned whether Dublin was best served by having only one county board.
"Is it allowing the GAA to get the most out of Dublin or would an administrative re-examination allow for higher penetration levels when it comes to activity? The population of Dublin has increased dramatically over the years, yet very few new clubs have been founded. I'm putting the challenge to Dublin to consider carefully where they're going." It's also planned to critically examine the role of Congress, provincial and county conventions, a development which Duffy described as "very significant" in terms of how the GAA is administered.
One of the longest-running unsolved problems in the GAA -- illegal payment to managers -- remains high up the agenda, with Cooney planning another assault on what has previously proved to be an unbreachable bastion.
Blaming a lack of leadership in counties, Cooney said too many people were in denial on the payments issue. "Why do we proclaim values and then fail to deliver? Is it not time to stand up and be counted?" he said.
Duffy has put together a discussion document on payments to managers, but, so far, it has only been considered by the Management Committee. Cooney said it would be put before senior county officers inside the next two months, after which a policy position will be formed.
However, Cooney warned that it "will not be worth the paper it's written on" unless fully complied with.
"This (payments to managers) is a cancer running through our organisation, which is nurtured and supported by poor or complete abdication of leadership and sometimes carefully orchestrated through supporters' clubs or so-called friends of the GAA," he said.
There will be disappointment among managers over the decision to retain the November-December training ban although, in reality, the likelihood is that it will be breached in many counties. Also, the failure to address a situation that prevails when two counties from Connacht and Ulster (as their provincial finals are played later than Leinster and Munster) are forced to play a qualifier game six days after being beaten will dismay those who regard it as a blatant inequality.
However, Duffy pointed out that if all beaten provincial finalists were to be granted a minimum 13-day break, it would involve completing the provincial championships earlier.
It was announced after Congress that Central Hearings Committee chairman Liam Keane would be tour manager for the Ireland International Rules team on their tour to Australia next October/November.