Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur romhaibh go leir chuig an Chomaháil Bhliantúil 2023.
Tá suil agam gur bhain sibh taitneamh as gríomhaíochtaí na bliann seo caite agus guim go mbainfidh sibh sult as 2024.
Once again it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Connacht GAA Convention.
This is my third and final year to address you as President and it has been a wonder honour for me, my club, and my family.
The GAA is a wonderful organisation in so many ways. It provides activity for thousands of young people throughout the country and beyond together with entertainment and talking points for all age groups – with joy and heartbreak in equal measure worldwide.
There is so much happening from U-6’s to seniors that it would/is easy to find fault and I am quite certain there are areas where and at which we can improve, but it is important to promote the many positives we deliver as the association continues to evolve.
John Prenty in his report has referenced all the winners and participants across all competitions and I wish to congratulate them all, with a special mention to our three Scor All-Ireland winners which is a first in many years. While 2022 saw Galway/Mayo contest the All-Ireland Minor Final 2023 brought Mayo/Galway to a Division 1 final which is wonderful for the province and highlights the standards we are achieving.
Back-to-back U 20 Football titles for Sligo is beyond dreams and there were more dreams as New York triumphed in the All-Ireland Junior Football Final and the Connacht Hurling League Final.
These are some of the highlights and heartache of 2023.
The Council is in a good financial position and it looks good for the foreseeable future. This in no small way is due to the excellent management of our affairs by the staff.
In this regard I wish to compliment all the staff – John Prenty, Adrian Hassett, Kurt Reinhardt, Cathal Cregg, Brian Mangan, Daniel Forde, Oran Hestor – front of house, Attracta Hunt and Amanda Diskin together with the groundsmen – John Clancy, Patrick Gallagher, Tom Hickey, etc.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the stewards throughout the province. Sometimes they are taken for granted but this should never be the case.
These people turn up in all weather conditions, doing a thankless job with patience.
They should be respected and I thank them all on behalf of the council.
I also wish to mention and thank our Auditor Mr. Ciaran Loftus together with our accountant. Their advice and guidance is invaluable. That they are part of the GAA and understand it is of great help.
The accounts are again strong and show a healthy profit albeit down on last year. The auditor & treasurer will go into detail with the accounts later on but there are some standout figures such as ground maintenance/upkeep of €277,000. This figure is up on 2022 figures of €191,000 which was anticipated as extra works were needed on the pitches.
I highlight this figure because all developments a club or county undertake will have ongoing costs for maintenance.
It is therefore important that when undertaking any project – large or small – future maintenance costs are fully understood and catered for.
Gate receipts are up as is commercial income. I believe gate receipts will remain constant year on year and while the council continue to chase down more sponsorship deals and income streams, we have to accept the income will not increase dramatically and, in this respect, will have to be managed expertly.
The accounts this year reflect that expertise.
Centre of Excellence:
As I continue to say the COE is an unqualified success. It is now being used by all counties and that’s as it should be as it belongs to all of the province. The staff simply manage it on your behalf and are available to advise and guide all units.
The throughput of people is outlined in the Runai’s report but some of the standout numbers are astonishing.
- 4143 hours of bookings, that is 11.35 hours per day for 365 days.
- 330 hours of play on each grass pitch that is almost 1 hour of play on each pitch every day of the year.
- 182,000 visitors to the centre last year.
These are incredible figures which continue to grow.
Work at the centre continues day after day.
- Maintenance is ongoing.
- Grants are secured and applied for on ongoing basis.
- Improvements and upgrades are continually worked on.
This is a work in progress and I suspect will always be that.
Again, I urge the counties and clubs to use it, as I already said it was built for you and belongs to you.
As its popularity grows it will be more important to book in advance so as not to be disappointed. Of course there is a cost for all activities but this is way below high street charges.
One of the highlights for the centre in 2023 was our success at the SEAI awards where the Connacht COE won the National Aware for being an Inspirational Sustainable Community. This is great recognition for the work being done on the campus and a huge credit to the staff.
There is so much happening – outside of games – on the campus, it is mind boggling. For this I wish to thank our facilities manager Kurt Reinhardt and compliment him. He continually comes up with new initiatives that has us as leaders in the community and the envy of many including other provinces and sporting bodies.
Over the past 20/24 years there has been massive change in the development of infrastructural projects within the GAA community and such developments are necessary to satisfy the needs of players and patrons.
We are now beginning to see a requirement to upgrade some of these works and maintain them at an acceptable level/standard.
In some cases, these works weren’t considered initially so it is now presenting a financial challenge for the unit.
Going forward as more projects are being developed, they will be asked to consider all aspects and outlays both current and future.
Projects will be scrutinised by the relevant committees, in detail, and may not get the green light or may have to be redesigned.
We must remember we are about games therefore pitches with good changing facilities is the starting point. I refer you to the COE at Bekan, Galway, Sligo and Leitrim – they have pitches, practical buildings and adequate parking areas.
Croke Park/Ard Chomhairle have a finite amount of money and looking at a recent 10-year forecast produced by the National Finance Committee it shows that there will be marginal profits over the coming years with some years showing a deficit. The only scope for an increase is All Ireland final replays.
Demands remain constant and while the Council and Croke Park will facilitate and help in developments in the future they will have to be phased, practical and critically costed. In this respect it is important that all applications for grant aid are well thought out and expertly prepared.
I might refer all counties to the relatively new Annual County Infrastructure Grants of up to €300,000.
Last Year: Roscommon: €225,000
This grant is in place for the foreseeable future and of significant help in upgrading County Grounds/COE.
Good applications will be successful so prepare well and take advantage of them while they last.
GPA/County Games/Club Games.
We all push for the Dream – a county title, Provincial Crown or an All-Ireland. The way in which such dreams are chased has to be reconsidered and recalibrated.
The simple facts are that the push for glory is unsustainable in its current form. The finances of most county boards/clubs are at breaking point. We all know that teams around panels is a growing and very costly industry and we continue to allow it to happen. We, the administrators, have to take part of the blame for this and we can also make moves to curtail it.
At the outset I must state that the G.P.A. have done many good things, for the players and they are necessary but it is my belief and I have stated this previously, that the G.P.A. in conjunction with Ard Chomhairle should combine to push back on the level of collective training sessions that a county panel have to attend.
The G.P.A. tell us that they are concerned about player welfare with the stress – physical and mentally – that players are under. Well, if that’s the case, they should have no issue with this approach.
I further believe that there is no point in the G.P.A. dealing with mental health issues and the association paying large medical bills when prevention would be a much more acceptable route to take.
Let us, Ard Chomhairle and G.P.A. join together support the players to resist continuous training and educate the county officers re the unnecessary spending in this area.
A push back by both units would be a significant step in reversing the situation and in time would filter down through to the club scene.
For the moment, we know its simply out of control.
It is my belief that football and hurling would be more enjoyable if outside agents didn’t make it so intense and there would still be sponsors and 82,300 at All-Ireland Finals.
Coaching & Games:
Cathal Cregg has outlined the extensive work that is going on throughout the province and at the centre, you should go through it to fully appreciate what’s happening in this area.
I would like to refer you to one initiative that has proved to be a great success and that is the rolling out of the Club Development Officer.
This involves employing third level students for their placement and putting them into clubs for about 6 months. Last year we have 72 clubs and the figure is growing for this year.
This is a further indication that we are leaders and I wish to compliment Cathal and his staff for having the foresight to promote this scheme.
All the activities in this area will lead to greater participation in games which will hold over a longer period for the participants. This preparation of the younger generation will, in time, lead to more inter county success for the province and for clubs.
- Just have patience and engage.
Integration and Diversity.
During the last while a steering group on integration was put in place.
While integration is a positive move for the association, I believe it will take years to implement.
The Committee are now discovering that it is a mammoth task.
To develop the association with the means to accommodate all genders will require a massive investment in facilities. Currently we are not in a position to develop facilities as they will be required/demanded therefore it will require a huge financial contribution from the Government to bring it about.
It is not possible to change a culture or facilities built for a male dominated game overnight and people have to understand that.
The G.P.A. are off the mark when they push for us to pay the LGFA/Camogie players travel expenses. At present they are a separate organisation and integration in its time will take care of that issue. Again, you cannot bring about integration by looking after a small cohort of players.
So, talks will continue but I believe integration is not imminent although it will happen at some point in the future.
Diversity for the N.G.O. is now complete and while I agree with the principle of it, I personally believe we went about it in the wrong way and could have achieved it other ways. It would be better if we applied a simple solution until integration was achieved.
It was unfortunate that the Government threatened us with the withdrawal of funding especially when they themselves failed to achieve a 30% gender balance in Government like they said they would.
The HR Project
We spoke about this last year and it is still at implementation stage.
Many milestones have been achieved – new contracts, wage structures, reporting lines and a clear definition of roles as is required by each county.
This is an ongoing process and more communication is required between Croke Park Officials and the provinces to make this work and successfully implement the Mazars report.
Changes to the Council
Every year brings about change and, in this regard, I congratulate Vincent Neary who will assume the role of President a little later.
Vincent, I trust you will enjoy it every bit as much as I did and that no controversy visits you but should it I have no doubt you will handle it with all the experience you have.
Every good wish to Tommy Kelly who takes on the role of Vice President I wish him well and have no doubt he will handle the position with aplomb.
Also new to the Council this year is Seamus O’ Grady and Michael Larking from Galway – you are both welcome.
Finally, Christy Browne exits the stage with myself and all I can say it was a pleasure working with you, Christy and good luck in all future roles.
John has referenced all those who passed to their eternal reward during the year and I wish to be associated with these remarks.
A special mention to Mick Loftus who served the association at all levels with distinction.
I wish to publicly acknowledge the financial contribution made recently by Mr. JP Mc Manus. On behalf of the counties in Connaught and all of the clubs I wish to thank him and his family most sincerely.
Highlights of my time:
Looking back on the 6 years I’ve spent here there have been many memorable moments for me.
I have found each year to be as good as the last but to pick a few special times is important.
- Presenting three cups U 17, U20 twice to Sligo in three years was special I guess. I was just in the right place at the right time.
The three trophies are a reflection of the work being done at underage level in the county and the development of the centre of excellence.
- Corofin’s defeat of Nemo Rangers in the 2018 All Ireland Club
Final was exceptional as they played pure football and destroyed one of the aristocrats of club football.
The pace of the game was electric with passing, defending and shooting of the highest level. That made me very proud as a Connacht Man.
- New York’s win in the Junior Football All Ireland and Connacht Hurling League for the work they continue to do.
- The constant drive by Mayo and their attitude to never give up on their quest for Sam thrills us all.
- Toreen, Easkey and St. Thomas progression and competitiveness in their grades is a sign of the progress being made in hurling in the province and very encouraging.
- The completion of the Leitrim COE with the manageable debt is very gratifying and a testament to the County Board Members who continue to do the best for their teams in challenging times.
- The massive turnaround in the Finances in Roscommon to a situation where they are now developing Hyde Park and sourcing a COE in the knowledge that they are in a Healthy Financial State. All this at a time when their teams remain extremely competitive.
- London’s completion of Ruislip is also worthy of mention. The benefit of our overseas units cannot be overstated. They provide networking opportunities for the young who travel, together with games and a lot more.
All of these were highlights for me and allowed me to walk taller and think better when debating at National Level, but I have gained the greatest satisfaction from the development of this campus that is Bekan.
I see GAA people at all levels and in all parts of Ireland and further afield look at us in awe and wonder why they didn’t do it or how could they move towards such a development now.
It will be difficult for them to move such a development through the phases and finish debt free.
I take no credit for this and you may think neither do you……. but each county had a role to play and allowed the leadership in the province to work through it unencumbered, and because of that you all played your part.
This development on behalf of Connacht gives me my greatest highlight of the six years and I will always look at it in Awe.
I thank the staff here who showed the leadership and had the courage to develop this world-renowned centre. It is a great credit to us all, it belongs to us all and I urge you to use it at every opportunity and with pride.
When I assumed office six years ago, I understand to a degree the work that was going on here but scarcely could I imagine the enormity of the work.
In this respect I thank and admire all the staff, your expertise in all disciplines is extraordinary, you go about your work with passion and without fuss.
The atmosphere created by you on the campus ensures it is a wonderful place to work and that is evident to everyone who calls here.
You are simply brilliant – Thank you.
My role was made so easy by the help and support of my entire family but in particular Ailish, Roisin, Cliodhna and Aoibheann and I thank them.
They also enjoyed the times we had.
I cannot understand, at times, the unqualified support and guidance I received over the years from John and all the staff. Together with this, Croke Park staff were always there for me and I thank Tom Ryan and his team for their help and advice.
I seem to have got on with all Council Members recieved the support of all County boards and I will not forget this.
I had the time of my life and am grateful on so many fronts.
See in the link the Connacht Council Report for 2023 which was presented at the Connacht GAA Convention Monday 15th January.