Delegates to the Clare GAA Convention have given their unanimous support to long-standing secretary Pat Fitzgerald after it was revealed that the war between the top table of the county board and alleged online trolls is now the subject of a Garda investigation.
Joe Cooney, who was returned for a fifth year as board chairman, gave his full-backing to the intervention when speaking to the Irish Examiner, as did all delegates to last night’s convention staged in the Auburn Lodge Hotel, Ennis.
“This is definitely the right thing to do,” said Cooney. “When the campaign on social media got so bad this year, it had to be handed over to the gardaí and it’s in their hands now,” he added.
The annual report revealed that a dossier of social media postings gathered by the Clare GAA highlighting a campaign “character assassination” and “vilified attacks” on Pat Fitzgerald.
Details of the probe that has been launched in recent weeks were revealed in a hard-hitting report that saw Fitzgerald confront those “hiding behind the shield of anonymity to try and tarnish my good name”, with his secretary’s 28th report representing a stinging broadside against “a cohort of people” sitting at a keyboard.
“There comes a time when one has to cry ‘enough is enough’,” said Fitzgerald.
“For years I have been pilloried on social media and other online platforms, subjected to cheap shots by a majority of people who haven’t the decency or courage to put their names to the posts.
“For most of the time I have chosen to ignore the diatribe,” he continued, “but this year’s vitriol descended to unacceptable levels.
"When online posts enter the realms of a smear and belittlement campaign as I sit it, I could not sit idly by any longer and bite my tongue. It was time to take forceful action,” he added.
Citing the fact that “unwarranted character assassination impinges on my family”, Fitzgerald revealed that “a formal complaint has been made and the matter is now in the hands of the relevant authority.
“It wasn’t something I did lightly but I think you will all agree it is time to put a stop to these vilified attacks. Other officers have also been maligned on social media and these posts are also included in a dossier of complaints.
"We will wait to see what develops from the Garda investigation,” he added.
Fitzgerald’s report also defended the board’s record over the development of its Centre of Excellence in Caherlohan, despite the facility being labelled as “not fit for purpose” by Tulla delegate Brian Torpey.
Fitzgerald described the €4.56m investment as “money well spent”, and “it will be a fantastic facility when the project is eventually completed”, while Joe Cooney pledged to press ahead with the final phase of the development that began in 2006.
“There are plans for the development of a full-size all-weather pitch costing €1.5m and we are working on funding the project next year,” Cooney said.
2020 will see two changes to the county board executive, with former secretary and Munster Council CEO Simon Moroney being the standout winner.
Moroney returns to frontline GAA affairs after being elected Central Council delegate.
Regarded as one of the GAA’s most able administrators during two terms as Munster Council CEO, from 2003 to 2008 and again from 2013 to ’18, the Éire Óg, Inis man defeated 2017 GAA Presidential candidate Robert Frost from O’Callaghan’s Mills for the post left vacant after Ennistymon’s John Fawl completed his five-year term.
Fawl, meanwhile, claimed one of the two Munster Council seats up for grabs, with the outgoing Kieran Keating of Naomh Eoin claiming the second seat on the provincial council to dash All-Ireland winner Niall Gilligan’s hopes of making a seamless transition from the field to administration following his recent retirement after a decorated 25-year- career at senior level.
Despite being in robust financial health with the statement of accounts showing a surplus of €257,277 for 2019, independent auditor, Tony Fitzpatrick highlighted the board’s “vulnerability facing into 2020”.
He said it was “a major concern that team expenses have increased substantially” over the past five years.
A figure of €862,258 was spent on the preparation of county teams in 2019, an increase of €204,881 on the figure recorded in 2015.
“We are now managing at €2m plus business in Clare GAA,” said board treasurer Michael Gallagher, “and after looking at the figures for next year we expect that team expenses will hit €1m for the first time in 2020”.
“Team expenses accounting for 50% of the board’s expenditure is not sustainable,” said Ruan delegate Ger Lyons.
“We will have to attach a percentile of expenditure allocated to county teams and not go beyond that, otherwise this will get out of control.
"We are now in an area where we will have to look at getting a commercial manager for Clare GAA,” he added.