Potential runners biding time ahead of race to succeed O'Neill in hot seat
LIAM O'Neill will preside over his first full Congress as GAA president this weekend but the succession stakes are already under way, even if none of the favourites have yet formally announced that they will be going to post for next year's election.
The Congress prior to election year has usually provided fertile territory for presidential aspirants to emerge, a trend for which observers will maintain a sharp eye in Derry this weekend.
Recently departed provincial chairmen Sean Walsh (Munster) and Aogan Farrell (Ulster) have been linked with presidential bids for quite some time, while former Leinster chairman Sheamus Howlin was expected to be a candidate in 2011 but opted not to run against O'Neill, who became the first GAA president to be elected unopposed.
When contacted by the Irish Independent, Walsh, Farrell and Howlin declined to comment on whether they would be candidates, pointing out that it would be improper to do so until after O'Neill had run his first full Congress.
It is highly probable that Walsh and Farrell will be on the ballot paper. However, it remains to be seen if Wexford man Howlin, whose term as Leinster chairman ended in 2011, puts his name forward in an attempt to retain the presidency in Leinster.
That would weaken his chances, especially against two candidates for whom the timing is better as they were provincial chairmen up to some weeks ago.
Walsh served as Kerry chairman for several years prior to moving onto the Munster circuit, where he took over as chairman in 2010. If he were to be elected he would be the second Kerry president, following in the footsteps of Sean Kelly, who held the office from 2003-06.
Farrell held a variety of positions on the Ulster Council before taking over as president in 2010. If elected, he would become the first Cavan man to become GAA president and the first Ulster man to hold the honour since Sean McCague (Monaghan) in 2000-03.
Although nobody has so far formally entered the race to succeed O'Neill, it is certain that – unlike in 2011 – there will be a ballot next year.
O'Neill was always favourite to succeed Christy Cooney but it was still a surprise that he had no opposition. Indeed, there was concern in GAA circles that the presidency wasn't contested for the first time in the Association's history.
However, that's likely to have been a one-off.