The sporting shutdown presents the perfect opportunity for the GAA to “start afresh”, says former association president Liam O’Neill.
No GAA Championship fixtures are expected to be played before October at the earliest and O’Neill would like to see the space in the calendar used to forge real strategic change in the Association. One key change he would like advanced is unification between the GAA and the camogie and ladies football associations.
O’Neill told: “In some ways, if there are no games this year, you would almost want someone to come out now and just shout: ‘Stop everything!’.
“You could get some real clarity then. If that happened, you could take six months of a complete pause and redirect all the energies and resources into making the GAA strategically sharper when we resume playing.
“The overall concept here would be to imagine we were starting afresh,” he added.
“Use this period as a blank canvass. Start again. For the first time in our history, we have a chance to start from scratch and improve certain things.”
During his term at the helm, O’Neill was surprised by the resistance to uniting all the Gaelic sports, male and female, under one organisation.
“All sorts of reasons were put forward at the time — from different various groups. Property was even mentioned at one stage — who would own the property? That doesn’t even come into it, in my view.
“I would make sure that further moves are made to integrate and unite. We are all from the same communities and we hold the same values. I would set up a taskforce to bring everyone in under the umbrella now. In times like this, you can see it would make sense.”
O’Neill accepts the priority now is to protect the safety of players and public, but says the GAA shouldn’t lose sight of a post-Covid future.
“Right now, we have to protect our people. Put the players first — play games if and when they are ready. Get more youth and female representation at all levels. Embrace technology.
“Look at the glitches in our Association — the fixtures, the schools, and colleges. Use these months to sort these problems out once and for all.
“We can resume stronger when the time comes. We will be even more relevant when that happens. Because we will have looked after our people and addressed our problems.”
O’Neill adds that players will have to be the ones to decide if we do see a return to action this year. “It’s almost a popular thing to come out and say: ‘I think there will be games this year.’
“That’s fine to hold that view, but I would say: ‘Let’s have games when it is safe and when we can look after people.’
“And I don’t think anything can happen unless we first ask the players if they are willing to play. That’s what we do as an Association. We organise games for those who want to play. If people hold that value in the back of their minds, we won’t go far wrong. This current crisis is too big, and everyone is afraid to admit this, but no-one can be sure what is ahead.
“For instance, no-one will know for a fortnight whether the decision we took to enter phase one of the re-emergence was the correct decision.
“I would just feel we should take the strain off ourselves. Just because we don’t know just now when games will resume, it doesn’t weaken us. It actually strengthens us.
“Let’s come out of it stronger.”