Sunday 18 February 2018

Congress - the minefield that defies change in GAA

Frank Murphy, Chairman, Cork County Board chairman Frank Murphy. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Frank Murphy, Chairman, Cork County Board chairman Frank Murphy. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

To the vast majority of the GAA - players, team mentors, elected officers at all levels and the largest section of all, the followers who pay their money week after week to watch games - the annual GAA Congress is a mystery.

That means that, like other mysteries, it is not meant to be understood and we are expected to take it for granted that what happens is true but please don't ask us to understand it.

Since only about 330 people actually attend Congress every year, and many of them are 'lifers' who've been attending for up to 50 years, there's very little scope for any sort of clinical examination that would allow the rank and file members of the GAA get more involved with this great national institution.

So when the latest delegates assemble in Carlow on Friday they will not be imbued with dramatic shades of radicalism, nor a spirit of invention and especially not with an air of revolution.


After all this is the GAA - modernised and all as it has been in the past 20-odd years, but still essentially cosseted into a rural Ireland setting dominated by its own traditions.

Traditions that mean a club match will hardly ever start on time, that referees are part of the entertainment at games because the abuse hurled upon them provides an outlet for frustration for the fans who never accept that their team actually deserved to lose and, of course, it has to be somebody else's fault, and many other quaint traits of GAA activity that separate us from those other 'heathen' sports like rugby, soccer or cricket.

It is only when the GAA bosses, represented by the director-general and president of the day, take a notion to try to make changes of any kind in how the Association has been operating for generations that GAA people will be aroused from their slumbers regarding Congress, and this is one of those years as Paraic Duffy, in particular, has gone out on a limb in trying to steer the GAA in certain directions that are badly needed.

But getting a motion through Congress must be regarded as the Irish version of a minefield. What seems very simple wording in a motion can often become like a master's degree in manipulation of the English language once the debate commences.

Incidentally, Congress motions are invariably dealt with in the English language despite the urgings in the Official Guide to use Gaeilge simply because about 90pc of the delegates would not be capable of discussing motions through Irish.

At every Congress we have a high quota of GAA Hob Lawyers who are long-time experts in wondrous ways that GAA rules are laid out and printed in the Official Guide.

The Professor Emeritus (Hons) in this faculty of GAA expertise is Cork's Frank Murphy and many a time, after a torturous debate on a motion, it will be Frank with a few deftly crafted sentences who applies the killer punch to wrap up the debate.

And his expertise is rarely, if ever, questioned. And since the Cork delegation usually are opposed to the majority of motions, one can see how influential Frank is, but he is probably one of only a handful of the 330 delegates who actually knows what he is talking about when it comes to rules. Obviously that doesn't say much for the others.

But of course the elephant in the Congress room every year is the rule which decrees that a 66pc margin is required to change any important GAA rule, and especially any playing-rule change.

That rule has done more damage to bringing about change in the GAA than any other in the Official Guide and there seems to be no desire to change it and copy what has taken place in many aspects of business and commercial life by having simple majority on Congress decisions.

Maybe all those people who are screaming out for change in the All-Ireland Football Championship should apply their energy first to changing that two-thirds rule. Only problem, of course, is that doing so will require, you've guessed it, a two-thirds majority!

Duffy-inspired motions up before Congress could dramatically improve the following: the abuse of young players 18 to 21 through overuse; the first steps in improving fixture-making for club games; the pressure forced on Leaving Cert students every year as football severely interferes with their study in April-May; and completing the GAA programme in the same calendar year, i.e. December.

In any normal organisation it is odds-on that all these ideas would be voted through. But this is the GAA and Congress is far from normal, as many great GAA figures have learned to their cost.

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