GAA presidential candidate praises Ahern legacy

GAA presidential candidate Liam O'Neill has heaped praise on outgoing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for his support of the GAA and its activities during his term of office.

"He was always courteous and kind and I think we'll miss him," O'Neill said.

The former Leinster Council chairman commended Ahern for his visible backing of the GAA and for not just paying lip-service to the organisation.

"It was great to have a sporting Taoiseach and somebody who recognised the value of sport.

"Of course it was of particular pleasure to have somebody who followed his own team as a loyal fan, and not only turned up on the big occasions but actually turned up at training sessions.

"He spoke very warmly to the players and had a pleasant relationship with them as a keen supporter and also as Taoiseach."

O'Neill added: "I think he was a great ambassador across his political life not only as a GAA supporter. I found him to be warm, courteous, friendly and a great conversationalist."

Laois native O'Neill also alluded to the banter between himself and the Taoiseach at games.

"It was great to sit beside him on a number of occasions at matches. Often he was supporting the Dubs and I was supporting Laois but we never had any difficulty about that.

"Neither of us over celebrated when our team scored and we applauded the scores from the opposing teams."

O'Neill also was full of praise for the Taoiseach over the financial backing the GAA received for the redevelopment of Croke Park during his tenure.

"We certainly appreciated what we got," he quipped.

"The Croke Park project delivered a lot of jobs and a lot of revenue back to the economy and it helped to provide Dublin with a conference centre while there was a national one.

"The whole development of Croke Park has been a huge boost to the economy of Dublin and I think that is recognised by the traders."

The Gaelscoil principal also commended Ahern for not getting involved in the debate over the hosting of soccer and rugby internationals at Croke Park.

"He never interfered and he let the organisation make up its mind and I would have to praise him for that," O'Neill said.

"He accepted that the GAA would have the maturity to make a decision and eventually the opening of Croke Park to other sports came to fruition."

O'Neill will know on Saturday week if he is to become the second ever Laois man to assume the GAA Presidency.

Cork's Christy Cooney and Sean Fogarty of Tipperary are the two other candidates. This year's GAA Congress will be held in Sligo.

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