CONNACHT GAA CONVENTION ADDRESS JANUARY 2021
UachtaránTofa, oifigigh an Chomhairle, oifigigh an Chontae, oifigeach eile, agus a Dhaoine uaisle go leir, ba mhaith liom fáilte a Fhearradh roimhaibh go Comhdháil Bhliantúil Comhairle Chonnacht 2021 anocht.
As I come to the end of my term as Uachtarán Chomhairle Connacht I want to say that it has been an honour, and privilege for me to serve as your President for the last three years, and to say they have been three most enjoyable years. I hope that during my term as President I have served the interests of Connacht Gaa to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, due to the Covid Restrictions our activities were seriously curtailed in 2020.
My three-year term has given me the opportunity to see at first sight the great work being done by officers at both Club and County level within the Province, and I am very impressed with the efforts being made in every County to promote the work of our great organisation. There have been some ambitious undertakings by both Club and Counties in the Province and I commend you on your ambition, courage and determination in very difficult times.
Initially, in year one we focused on the development of our club structure, and following development seminars held in each County the various difficulties facing the grassroots were clearly outlined.
It also became apparent the enormous work being undertaken by volunteers in the organisation, and as the demands become greater I wonder how long can we depend on the role of the volunteer to run this organisation. I also wonder if the work of our volunteers is fully appreciated.
Our Clubs have many areas of concern, demographic issues, financial issues, but we found that one of the main priorities at club level was the status of their trustees, and I’m delighted that since those information sessions, a large number of clubs are now using the Corporate Trustee system.
I would now appeal to all clubs to make it their priority to update their trustees which will safe guard the interests of their club officers and members.
The year 2020 will be remembered as the year that the world was ravaged by the Corona Virus. Like every other country, Ireland suffered its fair share of disaster, and there is no need for me to dwell on what this country suffered as a result. The sporting world as we knew it changed to such an extent that you couldn’t ever imagine possible. The lockdown announced in March brought the Alliance National Leagues to an abrupt end, and the prospects of an All-Ireland series was very much in doubt. As the summer months went by, our playing fields were deserted and all Gaa activities came to a halt.
At that time, with Covid 19 at its worst, I felt it would be best to declare 2020 null and void, and have no Gaa activities for the year. However, looking back now I realise how important it was to have our games played and how much the GAA means to our people.
I pay tribute to the leadership shown by GAA hierarchy, for their courage and determination in providing us with a calendar to have games played at both club and county level. I pay tribute to the work done by the National CCCC for the huge work that they did in drawing up the split calendar to suit both club and county. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the enormous work done by Fergal McGill, both with the National CCCC and also for his work with The National Covid Committee under the chairmanship of Shay Bannon.
The playing of games during the Covid Pandemic put a huge amount of additional work on Club and County Board officers. I compliment all of the officers, working in a voluntary capacity, who responded to the tasks involved, and have done marvellous work to ensure our games could go ahead in a safe manner. This was a marvellous achievement and I sincerely thank you for your efforts which were above and beyond your normal duties but were much appreciated by everybody.
As the virus again gathered momentum we were forced to play our games with restricted numbers, and eventually behind closed doors. This was a government decision and one which the GAA had no control over, and while it was very difficult for supporters at both club and County level to accept that they couldn’t attend our games, we must realise that these restrictions were introduced to protect the safety of us all.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic two of our Counties were forced to concede important games, Sligo in the Connacht Championship, and Leitrim in the Alliance National Football League. The decisions were influenced by outbreaks of Covid 19 in each county, and despite the best efforts of the County Board Officers in each county, they were left with no other option than to forfeit the games. The criticism that both counties received was totally unjustified and just goes to show that people who are not directly involved in the administration of Gaelic Games in so called weaker counties know so little of the difficulties that those counties encounter in promoting our games.
We did however have an excellent Championship at all levels, our County Championships were regarded as the best in a long time with new champions making it through in four counties.
It was most disappointing that we could not provide our Provincial Club championship as our County champions would no doubt have relished the chance to compete.
The enforced knockout championship brought us back to pre-qualifier days. It brought a keener edge to our games, it increased the excitement levels of all matches. Forerunners were caught out, and new champions emerged in three provinces. The emergence of Tipperary and Cavan as provincial champions and participating in the All-Ireland semi-finals gave hope to other counties, and gave a breath of fresh air to the All-Ireland series. The knockout nature of the competition was a factor which contributed to this, and no doubt there will be arguments made to support the retention of a knockout system. It is a topic worthy of consideration, probably not at this time but certainly in the future.
I sincerely congratulate Galway GAA County Board on the success of their under 20 football team in winning the under 20 All-Ireland football final, beating Dublin in the process. Our provincial champions Mayo made it to the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final only to come up against a very strong all-conquering Dublin team. I compliment Mayo GAA County Board on the huge efforts they made in reaching the final. I also compliment other counties from the Province who enjoyed success in 2020, and I compliment all county representatives who did their clubs, counties and Province proud.
AS Dublin celebrated another historical year, winning their sixth All Ireland in a row, a lot of discussion has centred on their success, and how much they are ahead of all other counties. No doubt Dublin have serious advantages above every other county; population, club strength and of course finance is also a major factor.
While finance is a major factor, however I don’t believe it is the sole reason for success. Rather than dwelling on their finances, I believe an examination of how they have reached their present standard would be more beneficial. In the seventies and eighties Dublin were criticised for their poor underage structure, but Dublin County Board took this on board and have implemented a coaching structure that has been a major contributing factor to their success.
Some Counties have adopted an approach of investing serious money, buying in expertise to work with their senior teams and try and compete with Dublin, where I believe they would be better off concentrating on the coaching structures for their underage teams, building from the bottom up, which would eventually provide top quality players to represent the county and compete at the highest level.
The GAA nationally has been accused of being slow to make changes, but working within the pandemic, we learned that change can be implemented, and can be done in a fast and efficient manner. One change which has been widely accepted and has got a very favourable response is the introduction of the split season. The split season with County playing first and club next, will give players at all levels a clear picture of when they will be playing. With a clearly defined calendar there will also be a saving to clubs and county boards as team preparation will be controlled and done over a shorter period of time. Unfortunately, due to Covid Restrictions it appears that the start date of our 2021Alliance National League and All Ireland Championships will be moved back to later in the year, and unfortunately our club championship will have a later start.
It looks as if the Tailteann Cup will be inaugurated this year, and I urge all eligible Counties to give it their full support. However, I believe that in order to ensure it’s a real success, it needs to get serious promotion, and the full support of the GAA, with the Tailteann Cup final being played on the same day as the Senior All Ireland Football Championship Final.
Despite all its disastrous consequences, Covid 19 taught us a lesson that we can prepare our county teams to the highest standard without spending the vast sums of money which we have been doing in the past. We can also compete at the highest level without the long drawn out training programmes which had become tiresome for some players. The lessons learned here should stand to counties as they need to continue to implement reductions in the cost of county team preparation going forward.
DIFFICULT FINANCIAL TIMES AHEAD.
Nationally, if we don’t get a grip on the various strands of the Corona Virus, and if we have to play our games behind closed doors in 2021, how long can the organisation survive financially? If we have no gate receipts for 2021 our activities eventually will have to come to halt. To date the consequences of the Covid pandemic has denied GAA clubs, County Boards and Provincial Councils of all avenues of fundraising, whether it be gate receipts, the weekly lotto draws, the sale of yearly tickets or any of the various novelty fundraising that have kept GAA clubs afloat in the past. Quite a number of GAA clubs will have difficulty in finding the necessary funds to affiliate their respective teams in the present situation. With the present financial climate, GAA clubs or County Boards cannot realistically expect the same level of local sponsorship that they have enjoyed in the past. Were it not for Government funding we would certainly not have an All-Ireland Series, and doubts would be cast over the running of internal county competitions as well. While this Government funding has been a life blood to the GAA activities in 2020 we certainly hope that a similar level of funding will be available this year. I sincerely urge our Government to provide financial support for our games in 2021, because if Government funding is not forthcoming it will put question marks over whether we can have any form of GAA competition at all. The provision of Government funding is now more important than ever before.
For the present time, expectations of funding from Croke Park is ill advised, because the projected losses for the Association nationally for 2020 will be well over 30 million and if the restrictions continue, which they are likely to, losses to the national association this year could be even greater. Like never before does all aspects of expenditure on GAA activities need to be carefully scrutinised and vigilantly applied only to what is vitally necessary.
This year the GAA, after protracted negotiations completed their contract with the GPA. Savings have been made, which is great, but I feel it was probably an opportunity to lay down the criteria for further savings for cash strapped County Boards into the future. Sometimes I wonder why the GAA need to negotiate with the GPA, should it not be a case of, as they say, “he who pays the piper calls the tunes”. As we are presently in the middle of a serious financial crises, counties can no longer meet the GPA led demands on the finances of our county boards. Under no circumstance should Inter County players be out of pocket for their involvement in county teams, but when we consider that over 60% of our county team preparation budget is dictated by GPA demands, I feel their influence in these matters should be paused until counties come to terms with their financial dilemmas.
While Covid 19 put a stop to a lot of gatherings and events, we had a very historic event here in the Province at the Centre of Excellence, with the inflation of the world standard Dome on Thursday July 23rd. This was a very proud day for everybody associated with Connacht GAA and to have a facility of this standard here at the Centre is a major achievement. The completion of this project enhances the existing facilities here at the Centre and to have it completed within budget is a major achievement. This is a tribute to John Prenty, the driving force behind the project, and his team at the Centre of Excellence and they deserve great credit for this development which will be of major benefit to the development of Gaelic games here in the province and further afield.
The final phase of this development is the provision of living accommodation to facilitate groups, teams using the facility for the now popular training camps, which are now part and parcel of every team’s match preparation.
While all units of our association are doing Trojan work in promoting the activities of the association, as the Coiste Bainistiochta liaison officer I want to highlight the great work being done by a small number of clubs, and a small group of people who promote the game of Rounders here in the province. I also compliment the Rounders Ard Chomhairle who have done great work in the promotion of the game and the production of the recently published Strategic Plan will certainly enhance their promotion of the game into the future.
During my time as Uachtarán I have called on many people to assist in one way or another, and now I want to thank you all very sincerely for your contribution to the running of Connacht GAA over the last three years.
To the various people who worked so hard on the various committees, I sincerely thank you. To the many people who worked tirelessly to ensure our games were presented in a top class manner we are deeply indebted.
To the staff of the Centre of Excellence I compliment you on the extraordinary work you continue to do for the promotion of Gaelic gams here in the province. To everybody who has assisted in the running of Connacht GAA affairs over the last three years I thank you all very much.
To the man who provides the glue to keep the whole operation together, I say we are deeply indebted. That man of Course is Provincial Secretary John Prenty and it is only when you get closer to the workings of the association here in the Province, that you appreciate the extraordinary work that John does on behalf of the association here in Connacht and indeed further afield. Likewise working closely within the system you fully appreciate the outstanding personal qualities of the man and I’m delighted to have had the honour of working closely with one of the finest administrators within the GAA, and a friend I’m honoured to have.
I compliment Uachtarán John Horan, and Ard stuirthóir Tom Ryan on their outstanding leadership of our association in what was a most difficult year. Likewise, I pay tribute to the officers of our County Boards and our clubs for their outstanding contribution to the running of GAA affairs in our province and in particular for their efforts in putting in place the various Covid 19 based restriction practices as recommended by the GAA nationally to keep people safe.
To everybody in the Province who have suffered bereavements during the year, I extend my sincere sympathy.
As per the five-year rule, some delegates come to the end of their time on the council. I sincerely thank you for your assistance and commitment in completing the various tasks committed to you on behalf of the council.
Likewise, I welcome the new representatives from the various counties and wish you well during your time on the Council.
During my term I was absent due to ill health, and I want to sincerely thank Leas Uachtarán John Murphy for the many times he deputised for me.
As we progress into 2021, we can only hope for a better year than 2020. I wish you all the very best in the years ahead, and I hope that with the arrival of the various vaccines, Covid 19 will be totally eliminated, and we can get back to living our lives in a normal way and continue to enjoy our Gaelic Games at first sight.
To everybody who contributed to making my term as your President so enjoyable I say a sincere Thank you all very much.
Go raibh míle mhaith agat.