O’Neill revealed that work is already underway to bring the GAA, Ladies Football, Camogie, Handball and Rounders under one governance umbrella, a move he believes would create “a much bigger, stronger unit where all our games would be developed in a much more significant way.”
O’Neill was speaking at the unveiling of Liberty Insurance as the new joint sponsor of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship.
But, as if to underline the new way of thinking, the American company is also set to sponsor the camogie championships at junior, intermediate and senior level.
And O’Neill didn’t rule out camogie and ladies football sharing centre stage at Croke Park with their male colleagues in the years ahead.
He reasoned: “If at some stage in the future we had equality and we were promoting the games equally you could have a situation where you could have an All-Ireland camogie final played ahead of the hurling and the ladies football final ahead of the (men’s) football.
“The difficulty now with any joint venture like that is which association takes the gate, what share should there be. If we were all in the same pool that wouldn’t matter.”
At the moment, camogie has its own association, represented yesterday in Croke Park by president Aileen Lawlor along with Cork duo Anna Geary and Briege Corkery and Wexford’s Ursula Jacob.
So too has ladies football, handball and rounders. But O’Neill wants everyone under the same umbrella to allow development and planning in a far more cohesive and holistic way.
“The value of it is that we would have a much bigger, stronger unit where all our games would be developed in a much more significant way.
“If we have a situation where every GAA unit had the right to field a handball team for example, we could have potentially 2,000 handball teams where we have only 200 at the moment. The potential for development here is enormous.”
It’s not a question of unifying the organisations, it’s a case of putting it back together, he believes. “If we manage to pull off what is a reunification, people will say in the future ‘wasn’t it amazing that they didn’t do that sooner?’
“What I’m envisioning is that a person who joins the GAA will join a club. At the moment if you want to play camogie you have to set up a new club and you have all the associated costs with that. If you want to play ladies football you have to set up a new club and all the associated costs with that and if you want to play handball the same rigmarole.
“But in the new situation you would pay one membership, you could have a team from a club playing any one of those codes at no great set-up costs and so the opportunity for expansion are huge.”
O’Neill revealed that work on the plan is already underway. “We’ve begun the process of talking at senior level, we’re looking at possibilities. We want this to work. We want to do it carefully and we want to see what can be done in the best interests of those who play our Gaelic Games. If this was easy it’d already be done. Organisationally it’s difficult to dismantle what’s there and see a bigger possibility. If things seem to be working reasonably okay, people say ‘why take the chance?’ At the moment an opportunity has presented itself that up to now did not exist. I think it’s important we seize it. I’m here until 2015 but I’m not going to risk the process by putting a date on it to coincide with my involvement, that would be contrary to the spirit of the whole thing. In two years, with goodwill on all sides we could be a long way towards finalising it. It could be done quicker than people think, and the benefits are such that it’s worth pushing forward.”
Yesterday then was a very positive step in that direction, for camogie especially.
“We have a new sponsor on board, a quality sponsor and the connection with camogie is hugely significant. Two separate sponsors wouldn’t have had the same impact; the message we’re trying to get out since this time last year is camogie matters to us and hurling matters to us and the fact we are linking them both and the fact that people can see there are tangible benefits from working together. I said all along we will not succeed in breaking hurling into new territory without bringing camogie along with it.”