Sunday 21 April 2019

Kelly's grounds for hope as Congress set for U-turn on 'foreign games' rule

Former GAA president Seán Kelly believes the Central Council should be given the power to make decisions on the use of county grounds. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Former GAA president Seán Kelly believes the Central Council should be given the power to make decisions on the use of county grounds. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

At some stage during GAA Congress in Wexford on Saturday, a member of Central Council will rise to propose a motion which is largely similar to one that was beaten on a three-to-one majority only three years ago.

It will call on delegates to support a rule change which, in certain circumstances, gives Central Council the authority to make county grounds available for non-GAA sports - or 'foreign games' as they used to be referred.

Up to now, Central Council's power in this area was confined to Croke Park, which hosted rugby and soccer internationals between 2007 and 2010 while Lansdowne Road was under redevelopment.

Clare put forward a motion on a few occasions, which would have extended Central Council's jurisdiction to include county grounds, but it got an icy reception.

Momentous

Noel Walsh, the Milltown-Malbay clubman who worked so hard for several years to have Croke Park opened up before the momentous decision was eventually taken in 2005, led the campaign for the same arrangement to apply for county grounds but his well-argued case never came close to getting majority support in Congress.

That will almost certainly end this weekend and while Walsh won't be at Congress, he is delighted that Central Council are supporting change.

"It makes sense. In fact, it made sense years ago, once Central Council was given the power to make decisions on the use of Croke Park," said Walsh.

"This is well overdue but better late than never."

Seán Kelly, who was GAA president when the decision to open up Croke Park was taken 14 years ago, also believes that Central Council should be authorised to make decisions about county grounds.

"The motion is clear. This applies to county grounds only - club grounds are off limits," Kelly said.

"You never know when circumstances arise where a decision has to be made fairly quickly.

"If this motion is passed, Central Council will be able to do that, whereas Congress only comes together once a year.

"Giving Central Council the power to make decisions on an application for the use of a county ground for a special event leaves no room for controversy or embarrassment."

That became an issue last year when an application to make Páirc Uí Chaoimh available for the Liam Miller tribute soccer game was initially turned down, sparking a major controversy.

The GAA came under enormous pressure (director-general Tom Ryan described it as bullying) and eventually relented.

Effectively, they broke their own rules, which is why Central Council want to tweak the regulations now.

If the Clare motion had been passed in 2016, the controversy over the Liam Miller game could have been avoided as Central Council would, in all probability, have moved much quicker, and with greater appreciation of the public mood.

It will be interesting to see how much opposition the motion faces this time.

If three-quarters of Congress delegates were opposed only three years ago, will enough now change sides to take it over the required 60pc vote?

The fact that Central Council are behind it will probably carry the day, one that many believe should have come years ago,.

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