Sunday 15 December 2019

Congress is light on substance: where are the issues that exercised many for the past year?


Aogán Ó Fearghail. Photo: Sportsfile
Aogán Ó Fearghail. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The Lyons tea advertisement, where the master blender chooses 'All Talk' as the special ingredient for a particular day, comes to mind when reading through the motions for GAA Congress.

Mr Tea Man is visibly dismissive of the chattering classes and their fondness for inanities, in which case he would be well advised to avoid Croke Park on February 23/24.

Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile
Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile

Congress is supposed to be the GAA's supreme ruling body, the once-a-year assembly where delegates from at home and abroad congregate to discuss matters of real importance to the Association.

In fairness, that often happens but there are times when the agenda is so light on genuine substance that you wonder what's the point of summoning 300 delegates for the Friday night/all day Saturday sessions. This is definitely one such year. There are 37 motions on the agenda - 15 from Central Council and 22 from counties and provincial councils.

Frankly, the majority of them are utterly irrelevant in the day-to-day running of the Association. Many are of a highly technical nature, designed to tidy up niggling rule quirks or deficiencies.

After attending GAA Congresses for over 40 years, I can predict with a fair degree of certainty that the majority of delegates won't even acquaint themselves with proposals dealing with procedural matters, unless of course they impact directly on their counties and/or clubs.

As for the 'headline' motions, cue the banal march.

1. Ban sponsorship by betting companies in any form.

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The only votes against that will come from errant fingers that mix up the Tá and Níl buttons on the voting gadget. And yes, it does happen. Last year, two delegates voted against a proposal making it an offence for a player, team, management or match official to bet on a game in which they were involved.

Presumably, the two dissidents voted in error. Either that or they deemed it a good idea for those involved in games to visit the bookie's office en route to the venue.

2. Change the rule so that a player who clashes with an opposing team official is charged with 'minor physical interference' rather than 'any type of assault on an opposing team official'.

That should be dealt with in 60 seconds since assault is far too strong a word to use in those circumstances.

3. Define a melee as a minimum of five persons (presumably all behaving badly at the same time).

Why five as opposed to four or six? And what about the referee who faces the additional burden of counting the squabbling parties?

What if he gets it wrong and cites a player when only four were involved.

Will the case be dismissed on the grounds that the incident didn't have the required quorum to qualify as a full-blown melee? Now, that would be an interesting case for the DRA , assuming, of course, that they still had the will to live.

4. Scrap the provincial format for the All-Ireland minor football championships and instead play them off in eight groups of four, using a league format initially.

It's worth a try but anything that involves diluting the provincial power base is destined for a short life in the debating chamber.

5. Delete the ban on players sent off in a final participating in the post-match presentation.

It happens rarely enough and, when it does, the rule is ignored so it might as well be zapped.

Mind you, there's no guarantee that it will, since it needs a three-fifths majority. That's not easily accumulated, especially when it involves long-embedded rules.

6. Increase transparency at Congress by introducing a mechanism whereby every vote can be publicly traced back to the individual concerned.

This is being driven by the Club Players' Association and, in fairness, it has merit.

An attempt to introduce a new rule which would prevent the GAA selling TV rights to subscription companies (otherwise known as the Sky deal) was shot down in 2016.

Clare, Leitrim and Roscommon wanted it back on the agenda this year but it hasn't made it, due to the low level of support two years ago when it was beaten on an 85-15 per cent majority.

Under rule, a motion that fails to get one-third of the votes cannot be re-entered for the next three years unless the Management Committee allows it in "exceptional circumstances".

And since Management support the Sky deal, they weren't going to deem the circumstances 'exceptional' so soon after the last Congress vote on the issue.

Besides, the current TV rights deal runs until the end of the 2021 season so there's no obvious logic in debating it now. It's interesting that while some counties are anxious to re-open the TV rights deal before it has begun its second year, there's a decided shortage of motions on the many other issues that greatly exercise so many people during the year.

Scarcely a week goes by without various calls for change on assorted issues being trumpeted from various quarters, yet when it comes to forming motions and trying to work them through the system, interest wanes.

Or at least it has this year at a Congress where John Horan will take over from Aogán ó Fearghail as president and Páraic Duffy will have his last outing as director-general.

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