Monday 21 October 2019

Pat Spillane: 'The GAA is no different from the government - those who shot down one motion ought to hang heads in shame'

Valentia Island players Steven Sheehan (36), Joe Lynch (16), Donnachad Lynch (16), Paul O’Connor (33), Sony Curran (16), Jack Regan (16) and Paul O’Sullivan.
Valentia Island players Steven Sheehan (36), Joe Lynch (16), Donnachad Lynch (16), Paul O’Connor (33), Sony Curran (16), Jack Regan (16) and Paul O’Sullivan.

Pat Spillane

THERE were many important issues that delegates attending last weekend's GAA Congress in Wexford could have debated.

Take your pick from the following: the state of Gaelic football; the unhealthy influence county managers have on the association; the state of hurling in the majority of counties; the out-of-control spending on county team training; the lopsided nature of the GAA football championship or the money-machine the GPA has become.

Surprise, surprise, there was scarcely a mention of any of the above topics and certainly no meaningful debate on them. It was a case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Granted, a number of key decisions were taken, including the welcome move by delegates to allow Central Council to decide whether county grounds can be made available for non-GAA sporting events.

Previously, only Croke Park could host rugby or soccer games, but the embarrassment the GAA endured over the Liam Miller testimonial – which eventually went ahead in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last summer – forced their hand.

I welcome that decision; it has been a no-brainer for a long time. As I have repeatedly written here, most county grounds are glorified white elephants, so I have no issue with these stadia being made available for rugby or soccer games.

For example, given that Thomond Park can only accommodate 25,000, Munster's home games in the knockout phase of the European Champions Cup could be switched to either the nearby Gaelic Grounds (capacity 49,866) or Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which has slightly less capacity (45,000) but more covered seats that the Limerick venue.

I also agreed with the delegates' decision to overwhelmingly reject Donegal's motion to prevent counties who qualify for the Super 8s from nominating Croke Park as their home venue.

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Essentially the motion was designed to stop Dublin playing two games in the Super 8s phase in Croke Park. This was a populist, Dublin-bashing proposal which was against everything the GAA stands for.

Croke Park is the GAA's national stadium. It should be the venue every player aspires to playing in.

Everybody in the GAA benefits when Dublin attracts more people to Croke Park because the additional gate receipts are ploughed back into the association at grassroots level.

If the Dublin footballers were struggling to win silverware I doubt if this motion would have ever seen the light of day. The current Dublin team is one of the greatest in the history of the GAA and the more people get to see them the better.

And, let's be blunt about this, regardless of where Dublin play their games they will probably win them. As former President Sean Kelly said, a negative motion needs a negative response and its defeat was a victory for common sense.

My good mood didn't last long, though. The decision to copper-fasten the playing of the All-Ireland finals in August is a retrograde step which the GAA will live to rue.

The month of September has been set aside for All-Ireland hurling and football finals for decades.

It allowed the GAA showcase their primary matches in a special way and secure maximum publicity. They have now thrown away that opportunity, which is a calamitous own goal on their part.

However, it was the failure of a motion from the Valentia GAA Club which left me apoplectic. Essentially, the Kerry island club had sought permission to play 16-year-old players in adult league competitions.

Their plight was highlighted on RTE news before Congress. Due to emigration, they face the prospect of being unable to field an adult team in 2019 unless they could play three 16-year-olds. Crucially they're only seeking permission to play them in a league.

The youngsters would not be allowed feature in championship football at adult level. Anyway, the proposal was shot down.

So much for the idea that the GAA cares about the plight of rural clubs. Granted they have plenty of platitudes thrown in their direction.

There is no shortage of GAA politicians jumping on their soap boxes and spouting on about the death of rural Ireland, yet they failed to back a practical proposal which would have thrown a lifeline not just to one club – but to many clubs dotted along the western seaboard.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Though the GAA prides itself on being a democratic, grass-roots based organisation, nothing could be further from the truth.

The GAA is really no different from the government, who also pay lip service to the needs of rural Ireland. Essentially both are Dublin-based organisations that do not take into account the plight of rural Ireland when framing policies.

Those who frame these policies simply don't have enough first-hand experience of what these problems actually are on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, legislation which is framed to address issues in urban areas – planning regulations comes to mind straight away – impacts most negatively on people living in rural Ireland.

All we're asking for is that we have the same access to jobs and services as those who live in urban Ireland. I call that real democracy.

Sadly, by rejecting the Valentia motion, the GAA exhibited the same kind of indifference to rural Ireland as the legislators in the Dáil.

They forgot that a rural club has a completely different set of problems compared to its urban counterpart.

Those who voted against the motion ought to hang their heads in shame. It was another nail in the coffin for rural GAA clubs, but what's really galling is that it was inflicted on them by their fellow GAA members.

Another example of death by a thousand cuts.

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