Aogán Ó Fearghail last night became the first Cavan man to be voted in as GAA president, highlighting fixtures, finance, facilities and families will be the focus when he takes office in 12 months’ time.
In an emphatic victory, the Drumgoon Eire Óg man will become the 38th president when he succeeds Liam O’Neill next February.
Former Ulster chairman Ó Fearghail won on the first count, taking 170 votes ahead of fellow runners, Wexford’s Sheamus Howlin (83) and Kerry’s Seán Walsh (57) in Croke Park.
He is only the fourth man in GAA history to win an election at the first time of counting, joining the likes of Nickey Brennan (2005), Seán Kelly (’02) and Paddy Buggy (1981)
Ó Fearghail was the first candidate from the northern province to stand for election since Monaghan’s Sean McCague was successful in his second election in 1999, having lost to Galway’s Joe McDonagh three years earlier.
In front of delegates as well as a large Cavan contingent, Ó Fearghail was effusive in his praise for his family, club.
“I’m delighted to be chosen as An Uachtarán-Tofa,” he said. “It’s a privilege. I am from a small rural club. There are no trains where I come from!” He underlined the importance of the volunteer ethos of the organisation.”We’re an association where nobody takes... we give constantly“.
He addressed his Ulster heritage. “I live behind a very small little hill in Cavan and we have always found it very difficult, but we have survived and survival is very important and that has always been at the centre of the GAA.”
And added: “If you come from our six northern counties you do at times feel a bit isolated, you do feel a little bit left out, but not with the GAA.”
Until he takes office, Ó Fearghail insisted he would fully respect O’Neill’s position, joking “When the Uachtarán says ‘jump’ I will say ‘how high’.
In an interview with the three candidates in this newspaper last month, Ó Fearghail expanded on what he meant by the pillars of family, fixtures, facilities and finance.
“Without fixtures we can’t exist. They must be smooth, efficient and well-planned. We need best possible facilities for our players, administrators and supporters and without financial back-up nothing can happen. But we are about people first and foremost — families. Our players must be respected and protected from poor fixture-making or torturous training regimes.
“As rural communities haemorrhage people, large urban areas increase, the two issues are linked. Rural Ireland is still our heartland and we must always protect and support our rural clubs. We must preserve clubs, reduce numbers on teams to 13 or even 11, allow combined teams but we must keep club names and club identities alive. I do not favour full amalgamations as an option.
“Rural Ireland has survived famine and land wars, revolution and civil conflict, economic wars and mass emigration; we will survive once again and we need our GAA clubs there for us when new energy returns to this country. Every possible support and rule derogation must be given to keep the club alive.
“Urban Ireland is a challenge for us to embrace and to we have to attract more urban dwellers to our clubs by the quality of our fixtures, facilities and our care for families and members. I believe we need to work much harder to improve club/school links.
“Without teachers the GAA would not be as strong as it now is. I would place strong emphasis on schools and teachers in the GAA. The Department of Education must be convinced of the need to recognise and reward the time teachers give to the promotion of sport in our educational system.”
Ó Fearghail also stressed he had little or no intentions to tinker with Gaelic football. “Our games need to be played in the spirit and letter of the law and the rules need to be let alone, to evolve in a natural way but there is no need for further significant changes in hurling or football.”
Former Munster chairman Walsh praised Ó Fearghail and stated the best man had won the vote.
He also said: “I would like to thank my club, my county and particularly my family for the help and support they have given me all through my administration years in Cumann Luthchleas Gael.
Ex-Leinster chair Howlin took the opportunity to praise his victorious opponent, speaking glowingly about the good nature of the race between the three candidates.
Ó Fearghail is the 13th man in 36 years to be chosen as president a year before taking office, the first being the late Paddy McFlynn in 1978.
Meanwhile, reacting to comments about his annual report last night, GAA director general Páraic Duffy said he wasn’t against Friday night inter-county fixtures but stressed: “We shouldn’t impose the demands of a professional game on amateur players.”
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