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Integration and referee abuse will be the top themes in GAA director-general Tom Ryan’s report


Director-general Tom Ryan, left, and GAA president Larry McCarthy. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Director-general Tom Ryan, left, and GAA president Larry McCarthy. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Director-general Tom Ryan, left, and GAA president Larry McCarthy. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

GAA director-general Tom Ryan has made integration with the two ladies’ associations and dealing with continued abuse of match officials as central themes of his report to Congress later this month.

Ryan – launching his fifth report in Croke Park – said integration with the LGFA and Camogie Association was the “future” and that any failure to embrace such a vision “would seriously question what the long-term future for the GAA might look like.”

Discussions on the path forward are ongoing under the lead of former President Mary McAleese but they are complex and, as Ryan pointed out in his report, not without risks.

“One of the biggest risks is that it looks like one organisation has taken over two other organisations. That’s not what it’s about,” he explained. “And a risk around catchment areas and who is eligible to play for what club. That’s going to take a lot of thought and ingenuity to get around.”

But his view was that the merger had to happen and there was already enough common ground between them.

“The appetite is clearly there on the part of the GAA, LGFA, and Camogie Association to migrate our relationship from shared projects to a shared formal structure.”

Ryan believes that the three organisations should “build anew” rather than combine what is already there but notes caution around the “imperative” of full equality.

“Even within today’s GAA, I am very conscious that there are instances where we don’t, and cannot, guarantee equality. Counties differ in terms of resources, different codes are given priority in different parts of the country, the lot of the junior club player differs greatly from that of the All-Star winners,” he pointed out.

On the subject of abuse of match officials, which appeared to peak last autumn, Ryan said such behaviour had to be “called out” by all members.

“The broader challenges we face around match officials are those concerning culture, attitudes, and behaviours,” said Ryan. “These are the responsibility of all units of the Association, and dare I say, all of us individual members. Any player, supporter, official or member who still believes that the interest of their team is best served by abusive behaviour towards a referee, or indeed anybody, is sadly mistaken. If that’s the way you think, and if we can’t convince you otherwise, then please just stay away.”

Ryan said he hoped that the findings on a survey conducted in December last on the effectiveness of the Respect for Referees Campaign and a soon to be launched national development plan for referees could be effective in assisting officials.

​A suite of proposals are going to Congress aimed at improving the disciplinary system with regard to applying more appropriate sanctions against team officials, among them lifting the maximum suspension from 96 weeks to 240 weeks.

“We still struggle at all levels to accept responsibility for on-field actions, and a culture of challenging proposed penalties around disciplinary matters, often based on technicalities, prevails,” said Ryan.

“While we all accept that referees, like players or managers, make mistakes, and that the disciplinary system should allow for this. It is much harder to accept proposed suspensions being overturned on procedural technicalities, as is so often the case,” he wrote.

For those wishing for a return to the September slot for All-Ireland finals, there will be disappointment, though Ryan did concede that there may be tweaks to the current schedule in time.

“I don’t envisage a return to the much-loved September All-Ireland finals that we all grew up with,” he said. “I completely understand the power of tradition, and all that those weekends entailed. However, times change and we have to change with them.”

Ryan said he was “loath” to declare the new split-season model an “unqualified success” as it was still year one in a three-year trial. He accepted there were “challenges” with the commitment required by players and the “thick and fast” way the inter-county season comes at everyone involved, making promotion of games difficult. But the advantages weighed much heavier, he felt, and he was “greatly encouraged”. 

“The transition from county to club was orderly and player-centred. For the first time club players were presented with certainty regarding club championship dates. In addition, the club championships themselves enjoyed an unprecedented spotlight.”

In returning to the theme of what a sustainable GAA looks like, the director-general once again questioned the burdens faced by volunteer officials around finance, particular resourcing inter-county teams and wondered if volunteerism is in danger of becoming “a thing of the past”.

“The financial demands of teams are growing year on year and 2023 will be no different. With every extra cost, there is a requirement to fund this through additional fundraising, sponsorship, or other sources.

“The cost of backroom personnel of senior inter-county teams is becoming simply unsustainable. The values of the Association are being eroded with each paid addition to the backroom team and voluntary roles are in danger of becoming a thing of the past.

“We need to support our treasurers more vigorously on this matter. Dispiritingly, a lot of our pressures are self-inflicted, and this is one such instance.”

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