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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The gods make
their own
importance

Nickey Brennan: says the GAA won’t be getting involved in Cork dispute.

PATRICK KAVANAGH could have offered the right description of the Cork hurling crisis, the kind of local row which sparked the Illiad in Homer’s mind.

That undersells the newsprint and airtime generated this time round, of course — this instalment of the row has sparked enough chat and observation to fill the Odyssey as well, and you’d have a fair chance of completing the word count for the Aeneid while you’re at it.

Everybody has an opinion on the matter they’re willing to share, and
it’s unfortunate that some of those
offerings aren’t entirely helpful.

Take a step back from the immediate combatants and consider some of the contributions from the GAA
hierarchy in recent weeks.

Last week Director-General Paraic Duffy described the contretemps on Leeside as relating to local circumstances rather than being a national trend.

President Nickey Brennan concurred and expanded: “From a GAA perspective, that’s a local Cork issue now and they’ll have to deal with it locally. . . what happened earlier this year is well known. We got involved and we’re not getting involved on this occasion.”

Too late. The world’s most eagerly anticipated challenge game, the St Colman’s Legends v Cork match fixed for November 23rd, has fallen by the wayside due to the new GAA ban on all collective inter-county activity,
including training and challenge games, during the months of November and December. Could that be read as involvement?

The chairman of the Central
Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), Jimmy Dunne, said on Wednesday night: “A number of counties have applied to play challenge matches during this so-called closed season and all those requests were turned down by the CCCC.”

The timing of the announcement is particularly unfortunate, given that Nickey Brennan insisted only last week that the fixture in Fermoy would be exempt from the new
ruling: “We are allowing trial games on a limited basis and we are viewing this match as a trial game.

“This is very much a special occasion which is being played to honour the considerable contribution of St Colman’s College to hurling in Cork. We are taking the spirit of why the game is being played into account.”

The reasoning behind the playing and training ban — to lessen the threat of player burnout — is an irony that need not delay us here unduly.

What is worth examining is whether the GAA hierarchy are sure if this is a total ban or not, whether they have any appetite for enforcing it, or whether — as it seems — this is an ad hoc arrangement with guidelines
being improvised on the hoof. Whichever it is, it seems strange that the President of the GAA is making statements affirming that certain games are going ahead while one of the most powerful committees in the Association is ruling out those matches.

We’ve had those contradictions served up before. Last December Nickey Brennan commented on the last stand-off in Cork GAA circles, saying: “This is an internal situation for Cork which we are not getting
involved in.

“We believe that there are enough wise heads on both sides to sort the matter out and I would be very
confident that the matter will be
resolved quite soon.”

By early February Brennan had asked Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to intervene in the dispute, a move which, in fairness, eventually led to the strike being resolved.

In the meantime, at the time of going to press yesterday St Colman’s had not received any official contact from Croke Park regarding the postponement of the game, while on Wednesday night Cork County Board chairman Mick Dolan admitted that he was in the dark regarding the fixture.

Kavanagh was right when he said gods make their own importance.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie