Wind of change blowing, says Kenoy

TOMMY KENOY has hailed the recent shift in favour of opening Croke Park to other sports as a victory for democracy in the GAA.

He believes the grass roots’ support will see a motion to temporarily set aside Rule 42 passed at Congress next weekend.

“I said a few weeks ago that I was optimistic change would happen,” the Roscommon official said yesterday.

“My optimism then, as it is now, was based on the fact that ordinary club members were getting to have their say. That’s how it is turning out.

“The tide is turning in favour of opening up. The decisions of counties like Waterford, Tipperary and Meath - counties who would have been traditionally opposed to it - to vote for change has been hugely significant.

“And it isn’t just that, it’s the margins the votes are winning by. The Meath vote was 51-7 and it was unanimous in Waterford. It’s the grass roots and not officialdom deciding on the issue. That’s how we always wanted it to be.”

Kenoy compared the ‘pro’ campaign’s momentum to the process 35 years ago that saw Rule 27 - or ‘The Ban’ on foreign sports - being abolished during the Pat Fanning’s presidency.

At the time, Meath had a motion calling for a nationwide referendum of GAA members on Rule 27 accepted onto the clár, outflanking the most conservative of county boards.

Both Roscommon and Clare proposed a similar referendum on Rule 42 in 2002, though that was rejected by the Motions Committee who had “learnt their lesson” from 1970, according to Kenoy.

Kenoy, and every GAA member in favour of opening up Croke Park, have suffered cruel defeats in the past, none worse than in 2001 when the motion was defeated by a single vote.

“I really thought we had done enough to get it passed. Then when news of the Government grant came in we lost a small number of crucial votes from Galway, Dublin and one or two more. If just one of those hadn’t changed their minds it would have been very different.”

For now, the votes seem to be flowing in the opposite direction. Despite voting against change at their last county board meeting, there has been a considerable outcry in Mayo that delegates did not have the opportunity to canvass their clubs beforehand.

The expectation now is that the county executive may yet have to do a U-turn when they meet next week.

Westmeath are also consulting their clubs while Leitrim, who also decide next week, are certain to back the motions, as are Carlow tonight.

Even suggestions that the 10 past presidents will vote against appear premature. There is speculation that Peter Quinn may not be able to attend due to business commitments, while Joe McDonagh and Paddy Buggy could well vote in favour. Dr Mick Loftus’ position is somewhat harder to judge, while the other six should go against.

“By my reckoning we will have all of Leinster, probably all of Connacht and possibly all of Munster bar one, maybe two depending on how Limerick and Cork go,” said Kenoy.

“In Ulster, seven of the nine might go against, although I’m encouraged by Armagh going back to their clubs. So the overseas vote will have a huge bearing on the vote.”

Kenoy won’t need reminding that Britain’s and Louth’s representatives were absent from the 2001 vote due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak and both parties are expected to go with the tide for change in nine days’ time.

“There was an excellent speech made by Cathal Lynch at the 2001 Congress when he was secretary of the European Board,” Kenoy recalled.

“Cathal made the point that GAA clubs in Europe were using soccer, rugby and even cricket pitches to play on so how could they vote against changing Rule 42. He got a round of applause for that, which, in my time anyway, is very rare at Congress.”

There has been some speculation that Roscommon’s own motion would have no chance of being accepted as it seemed to have placed a time limit of 2008 on Croke Park’s availability to soccer and rugby.

Not so, says the Connacht man.

“Four of the seven motions are for a temporary opening. Clare, Wicklow and Sligo are three and Roscommon have put forward a motion for opening up for three years up until 2008. After that there is an option for the matter to be reviewed. If it has worked for the three years up to then fine, if it hasn’t we can drop the whole thing.”

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