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President O'Neill beholden to no man

Well deserved congratulations are in order this week to Liam O'Neill , principal of a small national school, Trumera near Mountrath in county Laois, who will become the first president of the GAA to be elected unanimously at Annual Congress.

For a century, national school teachers were the most important component of the entire GAA playing system as they provided the first coaching and encouragement to thousands of the great players who later became household names.

In the past 20 years or so the decline of national teachers committed to Gaelic games has been a huge setback to the promotion of the games, but coaching at local level has at least tried to compensate for the absence of the 'schoolmaster'.

GAA Congress won't be the same without a contest for president, of course. The night before the vote was always a political roller-coaster as delegates from the various counties and abroad were canvassed by agents of the candidates as the night wore on.

An unusual result of O'Neill's election could be that the incoming president will not have some of the baggage that normally comes with the office.

Every president I have known always had a list of favours to pay back to people who had 'organised' a particular county's votes in his favour.

I always enjoyed spotting such people because they were invariably appointed by the incoming president to key positions (on committees etc) in the GAA structure.

So I wonder, will Liam O'Neill be a totally free agent to appoint whom he likes with no strings attached now that he does not have to worry about canvassing?

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