Wednesday 17 January 2018

This is the president that nobody voted for

Lack of democratic process will damage GAA's top office

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Congratulations to Liam O'Neill -- you have seen off all opposition without a contest. Commiserations to the office of the GAA presidency -- your status as one of the most prestigious positions in Irish sport has been damaged.

That has nothing to do with O'Neill, who will be formally appointed president-elect in April without a vote. Being chosen as president is a huge honour for him, his family, his club, Trumera, and Laois. What's more, he will make a good president.

So, before anybody attempts to misrepresent this as an attack on O'Neill, it's not. He pursued the presidency over several years (losing to Christy Cooney in 2008) and has finally won out. Nor is it his fault that he has no opposition for the job.

What's at issue here is the GAA presidency itself and, in particular, the stature of the office. The position has a huge profile, the association has never been going better, yet the president will be appointed by accord, rather than by vote.

That's wrong for the GAA, bad for democracy and worrying in terms of whether it's going to create a precedent. Con Hogan (Tipperary), Tom Daly (Donegal) and Sheamus Howlin (Wexford) were all nominated, but withdrew.


First out a few weeks ago was Hogan, explaining that the "presence of candidates with a stronger provincial and geographic base than my own, coupled with the fact that the current president is from Munster, would make it difficult to achieve the necessary support".

Next to the exit gate was Daly, citing "personal and professional" commitments, while Howlin stated that while he would have loved to run, he felt it appropriate to stand aside in favour of another Leinster man who had already challenged for the job.

"I undertook to stand aside on this occasion and attempt to unite the province (Leinster) behind his (O'Neill's) candidature. We shook hands on this some months ago and recently I again confirmed my intentions to Liam," said Howlin.

Taking the three nominees' explanations at face value, they effectively said as follows:

"Being a full-time president isn't on for me at present" -- Daly.

"Given that we already have a Munster president and the other contenders are from Leinster and Ulster, a Tipperary man would have little chance of success this time" -- Hogan.

"I'm not going to run against a former fellow Leinster Council chairman; provincial loyalty comes first and, in this instance, O'Neill also comes first as he ran for the presidency three years ago so he deserves a free run" -- Howlin.

Despite being nominated, Daly, Hogan and Howlin are all perfectly entitled not to run, but, since this is the presidency, the highest office in the association, surely they should not have left it so late to withdraw.

Also, had Hogan known that Daly and Howlin would not run, it might have persuaded him to stay in. After all, precedent shows that the runner-up usually becomes the top contender next time out.

In Howlin's case, it seems strange that since he always knew O'Neill would be a contender and didn't want to split the Leinster vote, he waited so long to declare his intention not to run.

As the rules stand, Hogan, Daly and Howlin were perfectly entitled to withdraw up to two weeks before Congress, but, in light of what's happened, it might be appropriate to re-visit all of the regulations.

It would seem fairer -- and more democratic -- if first-round nominations closed by November 1, after which those involved would have to state their intentions by January 1. That would allow for further names to be added to the list in the event of all the originals withdrawing, thereby avoiding the walkover which will prevail this year.

There were clear signals throughout the last decade that despite becoming a full-time paid post, fewer people were prepared to challenge for the presidency. Three candidates ran in 2008, but 2005 was a match between Nickey Brennan and Christy Cooney. Four ran in 2002 and three in 1999.

This year, O'Neill steps in unchallenged and while that's an advantage as it allows him extra time to plan a strategy, rather than a campaign, it doesn't seem right that there isn't a contest. Isn't it strange that so few feel in a position to challenge for presidency? Again, that suggests a flaw in the system O'Neill won't take over until April 2012, so as he plans the outline of his three-year stint, he might consider filing an entire reappraisal of the presidency in its many facets under the 'things to do' heading.

Events of the last few weeks make it all the more necessary for the good of the office.

Sigerson leaves calendar again howling at moon

So, after all the talk, analysis and warnings of burnout among young players, it comes down to this: two college football teams will play three championship games (quarter-final/semi-final/final) in a 48-hour period between tomorrow and Saturday afternoons as the Sigerson Cup celebrates its centenary.

It's a huge occasion for the great competition, the eight remaining contenders and hosts, UCD, but three games on successive days can't be fair on players. Once again, the crazy fixture calendar is howling at the moon.

Dubs' great expectations even higher than usual

JUST past March 1 and already it's the sort of start to the season by Dublin that's leaving their supporters trembling in anticipation of a really big year ahead in both codes.

It's a very long time since Dublin beat the All-Ireland football and hurling champions of the previous two years in successive games, as happened over the last two weekends.

Add in the footballers' high strike rate (an average of 3-11 in three league games, compared to 1-11 at the same stage last year) and the hurlers' deepening solidity and it's easy to see why the blue horizon appears to be tinged with gold. The question is: will it last?

Only time will tell, but it now looks probable that, at the very least, Dublin footballers will reach the Division 1 final and that the hurlers will survive quite comfortably in the top flight.

Mind you, they will need to be extremely wary of next Sunday's clash with Offaly in Tullamore.

Irish Independent

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