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GAA now stand last among equals

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GAA president Liam O'Neill

GAA president Liam O'Neill

SPORTSFILE

GAA president Liam O'Neill

THE GAA is, quite literally, the last man standing. Now that the various wings of the Irish golf movement for both men and women have united under the one banner, the Confederation of Irish Golf, the GAA stands alone in Ireland as the last sporting body to be divided along gender lines.

GAA president Liam O'Neill is going into his last year of office and uniting the Association with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and the Camogie Association has been on his list of things to do from the word go.

There have been reports of informal talks but From the Stands understands there has not been any meaningful dialogue. The LGFA is seeking permission from its members at its Congress next month to begin talks.

There is understandable nervousness in the two smaller associations about being 'swallowed up' by the GAA but this is something which needs to be addressed in negotiations because, in this day and age, the merger has to happen in some shape or form if the GAA is serious about pursuing an equality agenda.

The Confederation, meanwhile, was included for the first time as an entity in the Irish Sports Council's 2014 funding plans which were announced last week. The CGI will receive a total of €221,779.

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Amid all the contrasting Welsh views about Brian O'Driscoll in recent days, the definitive version came last weekend – from an impeccable source. It is a safe bet that Barry John would be on every list of great Welsh backs from the last half-century. And he would have wanted O'Driscoll as a team-mate.

"O'Driscoll isn't just one of the finest players we've seen of the modern generation, he is one of the finest in the history of the game; full stop," said the iconic outhalf. "I would certainly have been happy to have had him on my shoulder during the 1970s. He reminds me so much of Mike Gibson, who did play next to me with the victorious '71 Lions [in New Zealand] and who is probably the most complete back I have seen. Brian is very much in that class."

John concluded: "One of the extraordinary things about O'Driscoll is that in modern rugby, where the hits are huge, the intensity immense, the injuries pretty constant, he has lasted at the top for fully 15 years."

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BALLINAMALLARD UNITED, who host League of Ireland champions St Patrick's Athletic in a David v Goliath first round Setanta Cup tie on Monday, February 24, have proved to be very resourceful since they became the first club from Fermanagh to attain senior status two years ago.

With their Ferney Park ground not up to scratch, they initially opted for a ground-share with Dungannon. "That gave me a window of three months to get it up to Premiership standard," recalled vice-chairman Desi Quinn, who enlisted the help of four local businessmen, who each donated £20,000 to lay a pitch which was voted best playing surface last year. Despite the austere times, a further six-figure sum was raised locally to build two stands and complete the upgrading in time for the start of the season.

The ground, re-named The Fernabeu by the fans, now boasts the biggest changing rooms in Ireland, and a unique railing around the ground dubbed the 'altar rails' as it accommodates arms and elbows for the standing fans.

This enterprising club from a village of around 1,000 has a renowned youth system, which has produced Northern Ireland internationals Andrew Little and Roy Carroll, and the club has defied predictions of its relegation from the Irish League Premiership with wins over Cliftonville and Linfield (twice in Windsor Park).

Their clash with St Pat's will be going out live and, as a result, the fans will be segregated. "We've never segregated before," said Quinn. "This is a family club, but these are the guidelines we have received."

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The World Indoor Tug of War Championships are coming to Ireland. The four-day event, hosted by the Irish Tug of War Association, will be held in Breaffy House in Castlebar starting next Thursday. Over 1,000 competitors from around the globe will battle for the world titles in various weight categories. Both Ireland and Northern Ireland will compete.

John Greene, Dermot Gilleece, Seán Ryan and Marie Crowe

ssport@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport