When pushed on it afterwards, Aogán Ó Fearghail insisted he was referring to himself more than anybody else, writes John Fogarty.
Yet there was something uncannily familiar about the new GAA president’s mention of elitism in his inaugural speech in Congress on Saturday. “In the GAA, there should be no elites,” he said.
“No group, whether you’re the president of the GAA or a fantastic county footballer, or whether you’re the man who mows the grass... no group should feel ‘you’re the special one’. The chosen one. “There are absolutely no elites in the GAA.”
On the GPA website, county footballers and hurlers are described as “elite amateur athletes”.
But it wasn’t that line we arrived at when Ó Fearghail jogged our memory.
The image of the groundskeeper brought back an interview former Armagh footballer, now successful performance coach Enda McNulty, gave to The Irish News in 2007.
A prominent GPA member at a time when the player body’s relationship with the GAA was highly fractious, he was supporting Government grants for players.
He said: “How would the provision of sports grants for intercounty players affect, in any way, the volunteers who help run the GAA? Would they stop?
And if so, why would they stop unless they believe that sweeping a floor is as important as playing in an Ulster final?”
That’s not the way Ó Fearghail or many like him see it. However, the GPA are now inside the tent, having disbanded the militancy, and are earning their corn.
On Friday, former GAA president Christy Cooney, who oversaw the organisation’s official recognition deal in 2011 which is up for renewal this year, commended their workshops at Congress and said they should become an annual fixture.
McNulty, though, is still a member as is any footballer or hurler who has ever pulled on a county jersey.
As is his former teammate and current Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney. As are, by our reckoning, almost 90% of managers in both codes.
That extensive membership eligibility was made abundantly clear at Con gress on Saturday when GPA delegate, head of communications Sean Potts, spoke against a motion he acknowledged he would be voting for as a member of Central Council.
On behalf of concerned players and former players-turned-county managers, Potts verbally opposed the proposal to order all championship matchday panels to be issued to the Central Competitions Control Committee before 9am on the Thursday prior to the game.
It wouldn’t be difficult to believe the loudest shouts of discontent were howled by the managers. Why exactly would players be so upset?
The penalty for not doing so carries a withdrawal of the manager’s sideline privileges and/or a maximum €1,000 fine.
The penalty for adding a player not on the registered panel, except for a goalkeeper switch, is the forfeiture of the game. Central Council’s logic is the value of the match programme as an accurate source of team information has diminished because of dummy teams and late additions.
The motion only required a simple majority as it is enacting a new rule, which is just as well because it received 52.2% of the vote. The principle of it is sound but it won’t cease the habit of dummy teams. Nowhere does it state managers must name their 15 starting players either.
And, as Monaghan footballer Darren Hughes tweeted on Saturday, the permitted goalkeeper change could be abused: “Sub goalies definitely going to get the chop on a Sunday morning.”
This, of course, was coming from an outfield player who was put in goals in an Ulster championship game five years ago. The GPA’s alternative, as outlined by Potts, to issue squad numbers and put names on the back of jerseys is a strong one.
The promotion of the country’s top hurlers since helmets became compulsory still hasn’t been addressed sufficiently and further identification would help.
However, all of this pales in comparison to the fact a GPA official acted as a de facto representative of inter-county managers.
Privately, the GAA’s top brass expected there would be opposition to the motion from managers.
That a county or two would take the lead from their manager and vote against it. But did they anticipate it would be articulated by the players body? The GPA, it seems, are more than meets the eye. More than just the agents of elite amateur athletes.
They’re the unofficial Gaelic Managers’ Association too, it appears. That’s food for thought for Ó Fearghail as he embarks on his three years in office.
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Clare and Wexford baffle us with their silent approach to Congress proposals
Michael McDonagh Clare GAA Chairman
We couldn’t separate them, so Clare and Wexford must share the honour of ‘sheep of the week’.
Clare for their silence in Congress on Saturday when they had the opportunity to address their legitimate concerns about premium TV coverage of GAA. Wexford for their u-turn on the clock/hooter.
Clare’s failure to speak out was extraordinary, when you consider how vocal chairman Michael McDonagh was last month about the decision not to put their motion calling for all broadcasted matches to be made free-to-air.
Almost as puzzling was Páraic Duffy’s calls for debate on the number of live games when he stated in his annual report there will be “no reduction in the number of live championship games after 2016.
Wexford’s decision to agree with the clock/hooter concerns was unusual given one of their clubs, Clonard, put forward the proposal to use the system, and were shocked at plans to shelve it.
All because the system might led to unedifying finales. But is there anything more unsightly than a ref hounded by players about the amount of injury time allocated? Was the hooter the lesser of two evils?
When saying nothing can say a lot
As mentioned elsewhere on these pages, managers now have others speaking for them but when they have mouths of their own, you have to wonder why they need to.
Over the weekend, we heard about “hometown” decisions, referees influenced by teams and officials misjudging tackles as fouls because of the size of the player making them. All, of course, is manager speak and should be viewed as such.
But supporters don’t see it that way. When a manager is indignant, his sentiments are usually shared by the flock and a referee — any referee — is the victim. But do these managers realise just how incendiary their words can be?
Perhaps the most noble thing James Horan ever did as Mayo boss was not utter a bad word about Cormac Reilly last August. Mayo fans were already seething and continue to do so but imagine if he had unloaded on the Meath referee. Things could have been a lot worse.
There used to be innocent parties in Gaelic football. There are few if any now. Those in that minority usually lose.
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