O’Neill and director general Páraic Duffy appeared in front of the John O’Mahony-chaired group in Leinster House where they answered several queries from TDs and Senators about the agreement.
Watching on from the public gallery was Sky Sports Ireland director, Mark Deering.
Speaking afterwards, O’Neill was pleased with the opportunity for the GAA to “clear the air” after Duffy had described some of the initial reaction to the deal as “cynical”.
He now believes the entire organisation is prepared to move on and see how the partnership with Sky Sports fares.
“It’s natural that people would react differently to something new. That’s part of the process in the GAA. We’ve dealt with it on major issues before. Generally, people express their views early on, they accept the decision when it is made and I think the organisation will row in behind us now and say ‘yes, a hard call was made here, it’s over, let’s see how it works for the three years’.
“Today I think we’ve answered the questions and we hope that people are better informed. Unfortunately, a lot of the criticism we got was because people didn’t understand the full package.
“I think after today there’s a better appreciation of that and it’s interesting that the last six speakers were, in the main, very positive. That showed the discussion went well.”
O’Neill revealed to TDs and senators that in the two weeks since the media rights winners were revealed, not a night had passed that he didn’t contemplate the decision.
He did joke that it wasn’t the most divisive piece of work he handled as president — that was a minor change to the Scór competition. “That generated more personal heat for me, and that’s the way life works.”
Addressing Fine Gael TD for Meath East Helen McEntee — niece of former Meath midfielder Gerry — who raised some concerns about the move, O’Neill stated: “This whole package hasn’t rested lightly on us,” before continuing, “This will be probably the most difficult decision-making process in my lifetime. I have worried about it every night since and will continue to until the first year rolls out, until I see it being a success.
“I would share all the fears you have and more, because it’s our names tied to this.
“Sometimes in leadership you have to make the hard calls. It felt to us at this particular point in time (right) to make this call. We will forever be associated with it and we hope we made the right decision. We’re not so confident or so arrogant to think it’ll definitely work out, but we hope to be proved in the future that we made the brave call in this moment in time and that Gaelic games continues to flourish not just on this island but around the world.”
Having attended league knockout games in Thurles and Croke Park since the announcement, O’Neill claimed he had not heard a bad comment about it. The word he received from Australia had been extremely positive and he was backed up by Labour TD for Dublin South-West, Eamonn Maloney, who said the Channel 7 agreement had been celebrated among the Irish in Melbourne.
“I have to say that nobody has spoken negatively to me about them,” O’Neill said about the media right tenders after yesterday’s meeting. “I’m genuine about that. I did have a couple of letters where people expressed their views and I answered them all.”
Asked by Fine Gael’s Cork South West TD Noel Harrington if the GAA were caught out by the strength of reaction to the deal, O’Neill acknowledged they were, slightly, but politicians should appreciate that as much as anyone.
On the subject of consultation, both O’Neill and Duffy explained they had sought the permission of the GAA’s Management Committee in January about going ahead with a mind to striking a deal with Sky Sports.
O’Neill revealed he also informed out of courtesy the three candidates who ran to succeed him — president-elect Aogán Ó Fearghail, Sheamus Howlin and Sean Walsh.
He did so to ensure they had no serious reservations about something they would inherit in February 2015.
The Laois native added: “We also had soundings from other important people in the organisation who would give you an idea of what the man on the grounds feels.”