GAA Congress piece April 20 2009

May 28, 2009

In-tray full of challenges for new man Cooney

THE men in the wine-red club jumpers looked happy as they walked around the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork on Saturday, and with good reason.

One of their fellow Youghal club men was being installed as GAA President, a proud day for Christy Cooney, his family, and his club. The blizzard of motions and debates, meetings and briefings, built to a climax on Saturday afternoon, when Cooney was finally inaugurated as Uachtaran. (We say inaugurated — ‘elevated’ seemed to be the term in general use at the GAA Congress last Friday and Saturday.)

The weekend, with its large media presence, live streaming on the RTÉ website, was an opportunity for the bureaucrats who run the GAA to emerge into the daylight, and a timely reminder of the painstaking work that goes on in unglamorous committee meetings not just in the GAA, but in all sports.

It’s probably fair to say that no little boy or girl goes to sleep dreaming of chairing a rules task force or introducing motions on the suspension appropriate to playing overage players, but selfless administrators are the life-blood of every organisation, sporting or not. Correction: selfless capable administrators. There are plenty of challenges facing the new man at the helm of the GAA, as evidenced, for instance, by the last major speech of his predecessor, outgoing President Nickey Brennan.

Brennan criticised the GPA for a failure to engage with the efforts of the GAA to grant it recognition.

While the player representative body will no doubt have its own response on that issue, the last thing Christy Cooney will want is to begin his tenure in a tit-for-tat public slanging match; still, the man at the big desk gets to face all sorts of headaches.

And there are other migraines facing the GAA. The defeat of the new yellow-card rules on Saturday led to much head-shaking and frowning from the top table, but that also points to a wider problem for them.

The likes of Nickey Brennan were right to detect in the narrow defeat an appetite for change when it comes to discipline in Gaelic football and hurling, but there was a clear disconnect, to use that non-grammatical but apt word, between what people saw as over-severe sanctions and what the GAA hierarchy saw as appropriate.

That appetite for change and for improvement in discipline is widespread within the GAA. People aren’t blind to the cynicism on offer from some of the leading counties on the field of play. The appetite for punishing players with expulsion for conditioned reflexes engendered by generations of coaches seems a little less avid.

What the new President might also focus on — in the light of the commitment in his inauguration speech on improving communication within the GAA — was avoiding situations like that in Limerick last week, where some clubs felt that the county board stance on those new rules was at variance with the decision taken at the county board meeting which dealt with the matter.

Nickey Brennan’s wider point was far more apt — he said that unless discipline and respect were improved at all levels of the game then the rules could be changed at will, but there would be no improvement.

That’s another large envelope in the Christy Cooney in-tray.

The new man listed several areas he’d be focusing on in his term, such as developing the GAA in urban areas, player welfare and focusing on volunteers, but there’s no doubt that the greatest challenge he and his organisation now face is the global recession.

The new President closed his speech with an appeal to all GAA members to row in together for the good of the organisation. He got a good reception from the delegates, the dignitaries, and the men in the wine-red club jumpers.

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