Oráid an Uachtaráin:
Comhdhail Bhliantúil Comhairle Chonnacht 28 ú Eanair 2016.
A lar Uachtaráin, oifigigh an Chomhairle, oifigigh eile agus a dhaoine uaisle. Is breá liom fáilte a fhearradh romhaibh go Comhdháil Bhliantúil Comhairle Chonnacht 2015 anseo in Aras Chonnacht.
Tá bliain caite ó sheas mé όs bhur gcomhair dόn chead uair mar Uachtarain Comhairle Chonnacht agus tá imeachtaí na bliana nua ar súil cheana féin .Rotha mór an tsaoil ag casadh i gcónaí.
Our Secretary’s report, as usual, gives a very thorough, detailed account of our year’s activities, acknowledging the contributions of the various units and individuals to the work of the Council, so a very brief recap will suffice from me.
In football the achievement of Corofin in winning the All – Ireland club title was the outstanding accomplishment of the year. I congratulate the team and its management not only on their victory, but also on their exciting style of play which won many admirers as they continued an impressive tradition of Connacht teams in the competition.
Castlebar Mitchells carry the mantle of Provincial Champions forward into 2016 and we wish them well in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile Ardnaree and Hollymount/Carramore have qualified for the All-Ireland club finals in Junior and Intermediate respectively. We wish them well on their big day out in Croke Park.
Mayo’s achievement in winning a fifth Connacht Senior title in a row was another major achievement by a group of footballers who have dominated the Province for half a decade. Once again they came up tantalisingly short at All-Ireland level, but they will set out again in 2016 on this quest knowing that the challenge to their dominance within the province will be, in all likelihood, greater than ever.
In hurling the Galway minors had a magnificent All-Ireland win after an exciting campaign. Their Intermediate hurlers also won the All-Ireland while their seniors went very close before succumbing to Kilkenny. We wish them all well in 2016, as we do also our club representatives, Sarsfields and Abbeyknockmoy, who will be in action over the coming weeks. I also want to congratulate our provincial representatives who were awarded All-Stars or represented Ireland in the successful International rules series against Australia.
I also want to acknowledge the great work being done in our schools and colleges, be they at first, second or third level and to sincerely thank those who give of their time in promoting our games at these levels. We were delighted to be able to award a record number of bursaries, to the value of 33000 euro, to students in third level colleges, in recognition of their contribution to our games.
The re-development of London GAA’s ground in Ruislip was held up due to unexpected increases in costs, but thankfully it appears the project is back on track and it is now hoped to commence work after this year’s Connacht championship match. It is also encouraging to note that phase one of the long awaited development in Hyde Park, Roscommon, the laying of a new pitch surface, is expected to begin this summer. We wish both projects well and will continue to support them in whatever ways we can. It is also great to see Leitrim’s training centre up and running as of last weekend.
The Connacht GAA centre here in Bekan and the coaching and games development programme in the province are central to everything we do in Connacht Council. You will find a detailed account of the extensive range of activities undertaken in our Runaí’s report, and I urge you all to study it carefully. Most of the resources needed by clubs, schools, and counties are available here and units can benefit enormously from utilising them. The coaching staff here are all highly trained and highly motivated to deliver programmes specifically targeted to the needs of Gaelic players in our province. It is a model which is the envy of the other provinces and I urge all our units to make maximum use of its services.
Connacht Council invests heavily in coaching and games development, to the tune of 1.5 million euro in 2015. Under our Coaching Director, John Tobin, a huge body of work at club, county, school and college levels is undertaken and I want to acknowledge the great contribution made by all the stakeholders in ensuring that this money is well spent .The result is that there is a big buy-in by our various units and engagement with new developments. I applaud the work of Brian Henry, Chairman of Connacht Coaching and Games Development, Denis O’Boyle, Chairman of Coach Education, Cathal Cregg, Strength and Conditioning Officer and the Games Managers and coaches in all the counties.
County officers have a difficult role in the GAA. The challenge of putting bread on the table is getting tougher every year as the demands for resources and facilities grow. The balancing of the needs of clubs and county teams is rendered well-nigh impossible by the demands of the fixtures schedule and general administrative responsibilities seem to be increasing all the time. I thank them for the invaluable role they play and I acknowledge their co-operation with Connacht Council during 2015.
I also want to acknowledge the work of Coiste Iomana under Stephen Cahalan and Damien Coleman. The Tain and Suck Valley leagues provided useful competition for those who took part in them. This year the U-17 Development programme promises to be an exciting initiative.
Paraic Duffy has overseen our Public Relations brief and with the assistance of Adrian Hassett and our PR committee they have spread the word via match programmes, PA on match days, Facebook, Twitter,”Into the West”, our website and through our functions and gatherings. I thank them all for their efforts.
I want to thank our referees for their contribution to our games over the past year. Their task is becoming more difficult with each passing year and I salute their dedication to the cause. Under the watchful eye of Sean Martin they have engaged with the training and upskilling sessions that were arranged for them and I congratulate those of them who have been selected on National panels for 2016.
The provincial Scor committee has worked hard in promoting both Scor na nOg and Scor Sinsear throughout the province. 2016 is a particularly significant anniversary for cultural activities and I would urge all of you to encourage participation in Scor Sinsear in your counties over the coming weeks. Forget about winning for once and get out there and have a go.
There are a few issues at national and provincial level that have arisen in the past year to which I would like to briefly refer.
Firstly we had the unedifying spectacle of management change brought about in controversial circumstances in a few of our counties. This issue is dealt with by our Runai in his report to convention and also by the Ard Stiurthoir in his Congress report. However, it cast such a long shadow over our Province towards the end of 2015 that I feel I should make a few general observations too.
Whatever about the motivation of those who brought it about, certainly the process was not a model we would like to see become the norm. It resulted in a lot of hurt, recriminations and mistrust, and created a very negative impression of how we conduct our affairs.
Disputes will always arise between players, managements and county boards. And, as in most disagreements in life there are usually two sides to the argument. Therefore, very robust, agreed structures must be in place to facilitate dialogue and interaction before crisis point is reached. If the structures prove to be inadequate they need to be beefed up and nationally agreed norms would be helpful here.
The nuclear option of the threat of withdrawing services must always be an act of last resort.
Of course none of the above procedures will ever be effective if there is not a genuine willingness to engage and compromise in an atmosphere of mutual respect. However, the alternative of continuing on our present road is, as our Runai puts it in his report “a recipe for utter chaos”
Our competition structures for our senior football championship have been the subject of much debate and comment in the past year. The fact that 18 counties submitted proposals for new models to Central Council suggests that there is a mood for change, but trying to achieve any level of consensus as to how this should come about is proving elusive. The proposal which is being put to Congress from Central Council is by its nature a compromise, which may in the end not satisfy anybody, and I have no doubt this will continue to be a live issue for some time to come. Our present structures, though full of anomalies, have not served us too badly, and we must be careful that, fuelled by a momentum for change over the next few years, we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The proposals for change to address issues in relation to player burn-out, over training and club fixtures are of more pressing importance. We have been talking for a long time about the effect of too much training and games for players of a certain age, and the plight of the club player with an erratic playing schedule.
The problem is twofold and can be simply stated.
Firstly, at certain times of the year, talented players in the 17-21 age group are being asked to train too much, to play too many games for too many teams and are being afforded little time for rest or recovery, leading to significant physical and psychological strains and a negative impact on academic performance at second and third level education. And secondly, the great majority of club players are not offered a fair, evenly distributed and planned schedule of club matches throughout the year due to the scheduling of inter county fixtures. This is a major source of frustration to clubs and club players. Now we have a chance to do something about it. It might not solve it but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
The proposals to change minor to U17, U21 to U20, do away with all replays, except for provincial and all Ireland senior finals, introduce a calendar year fixture schedule, bring forward all-Ireland finals, and others are major changes that some will be reluctant to contemplate. However the greater good demands that we be brave and grasp this nettle. This is an opportunity we should not let pass by. Our young elite performers and club players deserve no less.
In recent months a proposal has been mooted to transfer a significant area of South Roscommon, with a population of 7000 (0r more than 10% of the county’s people) to Co Westmeath, removing it not only from Roscommon but also from the Province of Connacht. Roscommon Co Board, in common with other organisations in the County, is alarmed at this proposal and is campaigning to stop it. Apart from the economic consequences, they point out that people identify with their county, and the GAA does so more than most. This identity is under threat for those living in this area and while the GAA takes its own counsel on its county boundaries and traditionally maintains the status quo, nonetheless we do recognise the importance of county and provincial identity and we give full support to Roscommon Co Board, and the “Save Roscommon” campaign, in their efforts to maintain this area under the jurisdiction of County Roscommon. We have always accepted that the River Shannon separates the West from the rest and we are anxious that it should remain so. If there is an economic imperative that the greater Athlone area be treated as a single homogenous unit, then surely this can be achieved without disturbing the historical, geographical, social, cultural and sporting equilibrium of the region.
In conclusion I want to thank everyone who has helped me in my first year as Uachtaran Comhairle Connacht – my fellow council members and staff, the county and club officers, committee members and my colleagues on management. In particular I want to mention our Runai, John Prenty. We are fortunate indeed to have an administrator of his calibre. His knowledge, experience and work ethic are invaluable assets to Comhairle Chonnacht. I look forward to working with him again in 2016. My thanks also to Adrian Hassett, our hard working Operations Manager, to Attracta, Amanda and all the staff at Aras Chonnacht.
A number of members are retiring from Connacht Council this year.
Our Iar-Uachtaran, Frank Burke, having completed his “lap of honour” finishes a decade of Council membership tonight. He has been a steady hand at the wheel, has overseen significant developments in the Province and will be missed by us all. We wish Frank and Mary every good wish for the future.
Our treasurer John Hopkins has worked diligently with his team of collectors on our behalf for the past three years. His hard work and affable manner has been a great asset to the council and I wish himself and his family well in the future also. Roscommon delegates, Brian Stenson and John Corcoran, have also concluded their term and I thank them for their valuable co-operation at all times.
I welcome Mattie Kilroy as the new Treasurer and look forward to working with him, as I do with the two new Roscommon delegates, Anthony Flaherty and Sean Mullaney. To all who have had bereavements in 2015 I extend my sympathy and I look forward to a successful and exciting year for Connacht GAA in 2016.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.
Miceal Mac Concharraige.