President's men lining up in big field for high office
The race to succeed Aogán Ó Fearghaill as GAA president may have as many as six candidates - a sharp increase on the fields at recent elections.
Frank Burke (Galway), Robert Frost (Clare), John Horan (Dublin), Sheamus Howlin (Wexford), Martin Skelly (Longford) and Seán Walsh (Kerry) could all be on the ballot paper for the vote at Congress on February 25. The winner will take over in 2018.
It's possible (although unlikely) that others could also join the contest but, as of now, the above six are the front-runners, in no particular order.
Burke, Skelly and Walsh have formally announced their candidatures and will be joined in the coming weeks by Frost and Horan. Howlin said yesterday that he would decide shortly whether to run again, having come second to Ó Fearghaill in the 2014 election.
The Cavan man topped the poll with 170 votes, followed by Howlin on 83 and Walsh on 57. They were the only three candidates, two more than in 2011 when Liam O'Neill was unopposed. The number of candidates in the previous five elections was: 2008 - 3; 2005 - 2; 2002 - 4; 1999 - 3; 1996 - 2.
This is one of the most open contests for a long time.
Burke, a former Galway county board and Connacht Council chairman, will seek to exploit a geographic factor as the west has had no president since Joe McDonagh in 1997-2000.
And while there's no requirement that the presidency alternates between the provinces, Burke's supporters will argue that as Leinster, Munster and Ulster have each held the honour on two occasions since the turn of the Millennium, Connacht deserve a turn.
Skelly, who like all the candidates has served as provincial chairman, is bidding to become the first Longford man to serve as president. He entered the race unusually early, having been nominated at his county convention last December.
Horan, whose stint as Leinster chairman ends next spring, will try to become the first president from Dublin since Dr JJ Stuart in 1958-61.
With Leinster and Munster having at least two candidates each, the battle to get ahead in the early votes will be crucial. And since Ulster are unlikely to have a candidate, their nine counties can expect to be intensely canvassed in the coming months.