BEFORE four-by-fours and fourballs formed the small talk at county board meetings, the GAA was run very differently.
In the era that preceded high-powered management committees and strategic plans, the county board liked to conduct its business slowly – often very slowly.
The typical chairman was a skilled diplomat. While he wanted to get things done, his chief objective was to keep everyone on board.
Of course, this was virtually impossible and the net result was extremely long meetings where much was discussed but little agreed.
Yet, while progress was often snail-paced, unity was maintained because the men around the table felt their voices were being heard.
Much has changed since the days when nearly every motion resulted in a three-hour discussion with the final decision being deferred until the next month’s meeting.
The influx of BMWs and MDs has transformed the GAA. It should also be stressed that many of the changes have been for the good. There is less waffling and more action. Chairmen with a background in boardrooms have promoted the use of business plans which are implemented within a specific timeframe.
A very different type of animal to his pipe-smoking ancestor, the main objective of our CEO-style chairman is to get things done – and he’s really not that bothered if everyone stays on board or not.
These sharp-suited operators accomplish their goals by ever-so-slightly circumventing the democratic process. The trick is to elect a committee and put it in charge of a project.
Once elected, the committee can go about its business without being questioned or hindered.
It’s certainly a much quicker way of conducting business, but the lack of consultation means the sandwich-munchers often feel disenfranchised.
Evidence of these fissures between management committees and county boards was provided by the recent controversies in Meath and Monaghan.
Meath’s club delegates were furious when they were denied any input into the discussion on whether Louth should be granted a replay following Joe Sheridan’s controversial goal/try in the Leinster final.
They were informed that the matter had been resolved by the management committee – and that was that.
The club delegates took revenge when the management committee recommended the reappointment of Eamonn O’Brien. The clubs voted against O’Brien, who it seems, was the unfortunate casualty of a protest against the management committee.
A similar scenario occurred in Monaghan where clubs had been nursing resentments about the way affairs had been handled under former chairman, John Connolly. Under Connolly, club delegates felt Seamus McEnaney was reappointed without any due process.
When given the opportunity to voice their opinions, they voted in favour of seeking new candidates for the post of senior management.
It was a vote that led to Seamus McEnaney standing down from his post as manager.
It’s tempting to believe that Eamon O’Brien and Seamus McEnaney would still be in charge of their respective counties if the club delegates had been granted more input during the previous few years.
While due sympathy must be afforded to these alienated club delegates, it must also be noted that there is good reason why some chairmen are acting more like autocrats than democrats.
In fact, given the docile and sheep-like behaviour of many county board members, it’s a surprise that more chairmen haven’t turned into total despots.
The lack of intellectual rigour among county board delegates is often graphically illustrated at Annual Congress.
At this year’s convention, former inter-county referee John Bannon proposed a motion whereby referees wouldn’t be asked to review incidents that took place during a game.
If the CCCC wanted to impose a retrospective ban, Bannon believed the disciplinary chiefs should make an independent decision.
The rationale for Bannon’s motion was obvious. Having gone through the ordeal of refereeing a game, match officials were effectively being asked to referee the game again. It’s an unenviable, pressure-ridden role, exemplified when Brian Crowe had to decide whether Noel O’Leary would be allowed to take part in the 2007 All-Ireland final.
After a Longford official tabled the proposal, Liam Keane, chairman of the Central Hearing Committee, spoke in opposition. Keane argued that the GAA always respected the sanctity of the ref’s report. Time and time again, Keane refereed to the ‘primacy’ of the referee.
Given that the motion was coming from a referee, who clearly had the support of his peers, Keane’s argument was riddled with holes. Evidently, refs like Bannon didn’t want their so-called ‘primacy’ protected.
But unbelievably, from almost 300 delegates, not a single voice was raised in opposition to Keane’s patchy defence of the status quo. Judging from the evidence of Congress, it’s easy to understand why the new chairmen have been able to usurp so much power.
There is a lot to be said for getting things done. But there’s as much to be said for bringing the people with you while doing so. Sometimes it’s better to trudge along, albeit slowly, but shoulder to shoulder.
The old GAA men knew that much.
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