Monday 10 December 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Five issues John Horan needs to tackle head on

Incoming president can make impression in new role but only if he tackles the big issues head on

John Horan, who yesterday became the 39th GAA president at the Association’s Annual Congress, pictured outside Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
John Horan, who yesterday became the 39th GAA president at the Association’s Annual Congress, pictured outside Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Hail the president. John Horan takes office to loud applause but the music has a habit of stopping quickly for those who attain high office. The problem is that no mortal can satisfy the competing forces that always exist within the GAA so a president has to make his mind up very quickly. Does he want to be a reformer who makes a lasting impression or king of the rubber chicken circuit where he gives the same bland speeches and is satisfied with being president as distinct from doing something as president?

Realistically, the Dubliner has two years. The unusual system of appointments within the GAA means a new president is appointed a year in advance of taking office. Once a new candidate is selected, it is a case of the king is dead, long live the new king.

These are five things I hope Horan takes on, in no particular order:

1 Fix the fixtures

That is the cry to every administrator. Over the last few weeks it has been happening again. Players complaining about the over-use of young players who are being asked to play third-level competitions, league with their counties and some in the All-Ireland club championship. It has become a tiresome business and nobody who is commenting has added anything new.

If the new president wishes to solve the problem - and there are solutions - he must start with a blank canvas. Not by trying to work around existing competitions, but by starting from scratch. It is remarkably easy then to accommodate both a vibrant club scene with a competitive county structure. If you keep trying to add and subtract to the existing mess, then all you will end up with is a dog's dinner.

Forget about trying to work around those wretched provincial championships which have helped to destroy the ambitions of most counties. Let them all have some air.

And when Ulster counties in particular start talking about the brilliance of their championship then tell them the truth: That it is a stifling, nasty business for the most part where familiarity has bred little in the way of positive behaviour.

Let those counties travel and meet new opponents in good weather. It would help football develop too and would do wonders for the Ulster mindset. There is a big world out there - it is not all bleak and dour.

2 Tackle population imbalances

The population of the country is going to rise by approximately one million over the next 20 years, mostly in Dublin, but other towns and cities will grow too. Are our county boundaries going to remain as they are forever? So Dublin will have 1.5 million, and a lot of other counties will have fewer, in some cases much fewer, than 100,000 inhabitants. And, in many cases, a greying population too.

This is not just about Dublin but the case will live or die there. It is not something upon which I will comment on much more as I am fed up listening to people make silly noises about how Kerry and Kilkenny won so many All-Irelands in a row and nobody wants them broken up. There is a serious debate needed on new clubs and amalgamations which is part of a bigger picture for the GAA.

Not only do population imbalances impact on Dublin but even more so on rural clubs. Even in counties such as Meath, where the numbers are growing rapidly, there is decline in many rural parishes. Smaller families, a move towards urban areas and apathy are growing enemies. In many rural parishes now there are not sufficient numbers for under-age teams.

Amalgamations are needed to keep the ship afloat. Counties must be inventive with solutions. A father or even a grandfather rule where sons or grandsons can go back to a rural club might help. So could lobbying the local authority. Rather than shoehorning everyone into urban areas, the councils should be building houses in rural villages. It would also help keep the school, shop, pub and post office going. The GAA has a big role here.

3 Reduce the GPA's allocation

There is scope for a player welfare division within the GAA itself which would carry out every role that the GPA is doing at present and do it a lot cheaper. The GPA has morphed into a monster. The GAA are responsible. Those on the GAA side who made the deal in giving the GPA such vast sums cannot complain now about the high wages which GPA executives pay themselves.

They can say all they want, that these are the sort of wages necessary to keep these executives from jumping ship. Maybe Google, or Facebook or Coca-Cola were sniffing around trying to lure away these talents. I doubt it very much. It all sounds a bit like John Delaney of the FAI who answers any queries on his vast salary by saying that there were other organisations who wanted to lure him away and pay him more. Why does nobody tell him that he should avail of those great offers?

The best way to really look after GAA players properly is some type of tax rebate scheme. Just because they are amateurs does not mean that they should not benefit like rugby or soccer players or cyclists or jockeys.

There are plenty of ways to skin the cat in terms of looking after players.

4 Redistribute spending

The bigger counties, who have access to decent sponsors and a big supporter base, should get less than they do now. Just because they generate most of the money means nothing. This is socialism not capitalism. The system now is that the big are trampling on the weak. A complete reversal is needed immediately before many counties just wither from neglect.

5 Improve facilities in right places

There are many county grounds in a bad state but part of the reason is that there are no big games played in most places. The biggest match is probably a league game in February or March. A competition must be played when people are not going to die of frostbite or need a tent to keep the rain out. Incentivise counties to improve facilities but only upgrade a small number to cater for 20,000-plus. And forget about provinces in doing that. Place them strategically around the country.

So these are my five areas where I feel John Horan could make a real difference. I think he will take on the vested interests too. He is a man of vision who I think will arrest the slide and I did not even mention Sky and what he should do with them and their 40 pieces of silver. He may have to listen to some rather awkward characters on RTé but John Horan is well able for them and their "fake" news.

The GAA has enormous potential for growth in terms of spectator appeal and playing numbers yet it chugs along without much ambition. Central to everything for the future is a proper competitions structure which will place clubs and counties as equal partners. I think John Horan will go for it. He has nothing to lose and has the personality and charisma to really rally the troops.

With the right man leading, a few good men and women can change the world.

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