By the time he pins the badge on Aogán Ó Fearghail’s lapel in the Slieve Russell Hotel on February 28, he will have overseen a root and branch review of both football and hurling.
That’s fair going but then other matters have largely been taken out of his hands such as the five-year official recognition agreement with the GPA, which had been signed and sealed prior to him taking over from Christy Cooney.
As he says himself, he’s simply honoured the €1.8 million per year deal. He says he’s enjoyed working with the players body. He’s appointed Dónal Óg Cusack to the subgroup charged with rescheduling the GAA season. He’s found recent negative remarks about the GPA by Colm O’Rourke and Joe Brolly to be harsh. “We’ve had harmonious relations and it’s odd in a way that harmony is criticised.”
It seemed appropriate he made the comments speaking in Boston’s Sheraton Hotel as part of the GAA’s joint All Stars scheme with the GPA. But what about the claims they are elitist? “From day one, they were set up as an inter-county organisation. You can call that elitist but that’s their focus and that was it from day one. That’s the route they cater for and we signed that agreement for that route and we did it with open eyes.”
If there is one thing truly elitist about the GPA, it’s who they are targeting for funding in the US. Rather than rattling a bowl in front of the ordinary ex-pat Gaels, they have targeted prominent American businessmen of Irish birth or descent. They recently held their third annual Ireland-US Gaelic Players Awards in New York where several hundred thousand dollars were donated.
That being said, a number of counties have privately raised issues with how their fundraising efforts in the US have been affected by the GPA’s activities. One county chairman has suggested it needs to be top of the agenda when the GAA sit down to negotiate an extension of their agreement with the GPA next year.
O’Neill himself sees the issue not with the GPA’s work in the US but that of counties. “You have a situation then where high-profile counties come out and raise money and I would have sympathy with the local GAA units that need money. It happened in London where London are developing Ruislip at the moment.
“We have ongoing developments in Philadelphia, starting developments in Pittsburgh, Buffalo. I would prefer if the GAA supporters in those areas would support the local rather than the home-based ones that would be ideal but that’s not the way it works.”
But the GPA’s Stateside fundraising? That’s a different story. “We all signed up to it (the agreement), that if we didn’t come up, if our revenue didn’t come up to a certain level they were entitled to raise money. But it has brought about an interesting situation now that people are now looking at (how they are raising money). If we want to stop those fundraisers we have to come up with more money. That’s how it works.”
Whether O’Neill’s successor Ó Fearghail takes the same stance remains to be seen but there doesn’t seem to be much harmony between counties and just how good the GPA have been in making their presence felt in the US. In several ways, their methods to claim the mighty dollar are quite ingenious but if they continue to upset counties who rely so much on financial aid from their American brethren there may be some trouble ahead. O’Neill’s attitude has always been that the player comes first. It’s a noble philosophy. But in this instance, it might need reviewing if it’s going to cause divide.
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There is a consensus growing that penalties as we know them in hurling will change next season. GAA president Liam O’Neill accepts that.
Speaking about the Hurling 2020 proposals to be revealed in January, he said: “I know that we won’t have the status quo and that’s a good thing. Something has to give.”
O’Neill wouldn’t say if he preferred a one versus one or a one versus two change, only admitting he is glad the placed balls are now taken from the 20-metre line but the former appears to be the preferred option of the Liam Sheedy-led committee.
O’Neill also stressed for the GAA it has always been about “safety first and excitement afterwards”. In light of the tragedy that befell Australian cricketer Phil Hughes, the organisation’s concern about the welfare of players in the wake of Stephen O’Keeffe’s block on Anthony Nash looks to be more than appropriate.
Hughes’ death was a freak accident but brought home just how players put themselves in harm’s way when faced with a hard ball fired in their direction. This column took issue with how Nash was singled out for his placed ball-taking ability but there was always a safety concern with such strikes from close range.
Considering Hughes was hit in the neck, one wonders if a company like Mycro might develop protection for the area below the jaw too. But for the time being, the one versus one penalty from the 20m line seems not only the more exciting proposal but it satisfies the safety aspect too.
It may have been the undercard but Saturday’s game between Boston and New York offered so much more than the All Stars game.
A draw in the end, it was a fiercely contested battle that threatened to spill over on occasions.
Unfortunately, after landing in a divot after contesting a high ball, Listowel’s Kieran O’Connor broke his leg and tore knee ligaments. He needed two plates inserted into his limb in a operation in Boston on Sunday morning.
Boston, three points ahead on one occasion against a fancied New York side, saw their advantage slip at the death. It was learned afterwards they had trained for two months in preparation for the game.
Yet meetings between the likes of Boston and New York are few and far between. “Why” is the question? It’s all about the clubs in the US — and that’s great — but establishing rivalries between US county boards must surely be the next step in promoting Gaelic games in the country.