A Uachtarán tofa, a chara,
Heartiest congratulations on your election, a monumental watershed for our diaspora in general and, specifically, the GAA community abroad.
This feels different, exciting. I've often felt that to people exiled from home, the Association has an even deeper, more fundamental presence in their lives than for those of us for whom membership has a much simpler context.
It seemed to me that there was a general level of engagement with this election that was higher than normal. This is a great thing. It was a proper contest in which genuine concerns got ventilated, something that hasn't always been the case.
And I felt Jarlath Burns distinguished himself greatly by the grace with which he accepted defeat. I genuinely hope he runs again because, to me, he can be an outstanding GAA president of the future. Maybe I'm naïve, but it excites me that people of the calibre of you and Jarlath put themselves forward for the role.
Because this is a really tricky time for the GAA. A time in which honest, coherent leadership has never been more important.
Now I'm not for a second mistaking the position of president as any kind of chief executive's role. I know it's largely ceremonial and that, ultimately, the multiple layers of democracy upon which the GAA structure exists will always dictate the pace of progress.
And I'm as guilty as anyone of tapping into the cliché of saying that those running the Association are 'out of touch' with feelings on the ground.
I mean I'm a member of Nemo Rangers but, if you asked me who our club delegate was at county board meetings, I couldn't honestly tell you. And you know what, Larry? I suspect I'm in the majority here. Most of us in the GAA have only a reactionary interest in the decision-making process. We're good at giving out about things without ever engaging actively with how a decision is ever formed.
I used to be the ultimate knee-jerk operator when it came to Congress. The one who talked about 'grey-haired men in suits' running the Association to their own agendas.
An easy, throwaway dismissal.
So I suppose GAA members like me actually have a lot to answer for. After all, if I'm not even energised enough to know who Nemo's county delegate is, how on earth can I feel entitled to take pot shots at the decisions being made?
We're the ultimate hurlers on the ditch, a community as old I suppose as the GAA itself. No question, there's a certain daftness to some of the ways Association business gets done. You'll have seen this yourself last weekend with that new pass-back rule being voted comfortably through without as much as a single road-test. No consultation even with the referees who will be expected to police it. Madness.
All that aside, I think your election communicates an openness to change that is hugely refreshing. Firstly, it recognises the 400-odd clubs internationally for whom the news that a man living in New York can aspire to the highest office in the Association can only be hugely uplifting.
But it also speaks to every marginalised member here at home. It says that everybody has a voice. They just need to understand how to use it.
A real bugbear of mine right now is how the new calendar has squeezed the third-level competitions so brutally. UCC and DCU won terrific Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup finals respectively this year and, through my involvement with UCC's footballers, I know that we didn't see our county players at all.
Third-level competitions are dying on their feet essentially because of elitism, fixtures chaos and the pressure put on young players by county managers.
Sigerson felt a real clear-the-decks effort this year by the Association, something I could just about accept if the same thing didn't apply to the U-20 league, the U-20 championship, the pre-season inter-county competitions and even the National Leagues. They all had that sense of business we just wanted to get out of the way in a hurry.
And young players are being bled dry here by having so much condensed into such a short pocket of time.
Now I'm not for a second going to patronise you, Larry, on the importance of third-level competition in a young life. Your own background with Thomond College will have you well enough briefed on that.
And I'm not so innocent as to believe that a new president can resolve a fixtures mess that has been with us for as long as I've been able to walk. Personally, I suspect that a completely blank sheet needs to be brought to that debate. And, to do that, the provincial championships need scrapping.
If that becomes your "legacy" Larry, I think your presidency will be well remembered. But good luck with trying to persuade provincial councils that that's the road we should take.
Everything, ostensibly, at least is geared to making life better for the clubs. But you and I know that that's not happening. I mean April has become, essentially, whatever the manager of your senior county team decides it to be. A club month? Not when your county has a championship game in the first week of May it isn't.
And right now, we're trying to get all the second-level schools competitions done and dusted by the fifth Sunday of the year. How on earth is that supposed to be fair? Most teams will be done by Halloween.
Look, I'm not delivering any 'breaking news' here. You'll know this stuff yourself. To be fair, John Horan knows it too. He didn't shy away from any of this in his speech to Congress. Actually, he was very honest in what he said.
But, if you ask me, we've far too many competitions. Like, do we really need the pre-season inter-county stuff even if, in most cases, there is that benevolent aspect to it? Could the shortfall of scrapping those competitions not be made up at central level by an Association in such rude financial health?
Larry, if this fixtures mess survives the duration of your presidency, I hate to say it but you'll have failed a generation.
You canvassed strongly on that whole club v county crux; on the soaring costs of preparing county teams; on the GPA and its most basic issues of philosophy. That suggests your finger is right on the pulse here. But I'm just not sure how, without completely changing the calendar, you'll find it possible to make any of this stick.
The league is the model that works best at county level and, accordingly, should be the structure for our championship. Face it, the dogs in the street can see that. But we are an Association of independent republics, each one driven by self-interest.
And I'm constantly drawn back to the line that turkeys would hardly vote for Christmas, would they? It's crystal clear that provincial councils will vehemently oppose any change that threatens to dilute their power. But until they're challenged, this story won't ever reach a different conclusion.
If you prioritise anything going forward, please let it be to listen to the people that make clubs, schools and colleges tick.
You're a Professor of Sports Management Larry, so you'll know where I'm coming from on my next point.
The money being spent on inter-county teams now, clearly, flies in the face of any sincere concept of amateurism. It's not just obscene, it's unsustainable. The Dubs get a bum rap here because of the extraordinary levels of central funding they've received compared to other counties.
As Seán McGoldrick highlighted in these pages last week, Dublin have benefited to the tune of more than €19 million since 2007, over 35 per cent of the total budget. The second-best funded county has been Cork with €2.4 million. And consider this: Dublin has 134 clubs; Cork has 259.
Now those figures would look crazy in any context but, at a time the Dubs are chasing an eighth Sam Maguire in ten seasons, they look nothing less than ludicrous. The funding model was put in place at a time in which the Dubs were really struggling. Good luck to Bertie Ahern and the late John Bailey for fighting their corner so well in that regard. But that model is palpably obsolete now. It needs to change.
Dublin's commercial ability clearly dwarfs that of any other county, yet they're still being given an official leg-up deemed necessary almost two decades ago. Trust me, you'll be labelled anti-Dub the moment you even go there Larry. I should know. But the one, single obligation you will have as a GAA president is to oversee an Association that is fair. I'll leave that thought with you.
One other thing.
It seems to me that we have an unhealthy obsession with infrastructure in the GAA and the farce of Páirc Uí Chaoimh looks set to be a millstone around the Cork County Board's neck for the rest of my lifetime and yours. One question. How in the name of God can one county be allowed go on a solo-run that leaves such a black hole of debt?
I think you'll agree, Larry, that Croke Park has questions to answer here too. About how a supposedly 'debt-free' project ended up €30 million in the red?
For all we give out about Dublin's money, at least that's going towards coaching kids. But this debt has come from building a stadium that won't be filled to capacity twice a year.
Anyway, you've a year to get your head around all of that, Larry. I don't doubt you'll have the goodwill of most GAA people behind you as you prepare to come home and settle into the president's chair. It's a beautiful thing that you've got to this position. You'll need all your energy for it.
Guím gach rath ort, Larry.
Beir bua agus beannacht,
PS: Could you do me one more favour Larry? Please tell the Rules Committee to stop making new rules for the game we love when, as things stand, our referees are already completely over-worked. Oh, and please campaign to bin that God-awful advance mark. It's unnecessary.