By PJ Cunningham
The GAA Congress once carried mystique and magic around its annual meetings – I first remember it being described as “the most democratic body in the sporting world” at the time the infamous ban (Rule 27) was finally jettisoned in 1971.
Growing up as a player, a sometime club official and adult member, it was always seen as a feather in your cap if you managed to become one of your county’s delegates attending a particular year’s Congress.
That lustre no longer sparkles and it is now seen as a meeting which eschews the hard, relevant questions of the present time in favour of a vote for convenience.
In essence, Congress was set up to be the watchguard and moral guardian of the Gaelic Athletic Association –it has strayed far from that brief over the years.
Over the weekend just gone by, delegates from all over the world and the 32 counties of Ireland descended on Wexford … but for what?
One hardy observer of more than two score years attending this annual jamboree described this year as the least relevant ‘clár’ (agenda) that he had ever seen put before the delegates.
There was no effort to look at the state of the games, and in particular the need to evolve the current football championship into a soccer like Champions League and Europa League for the weaker counties.
There was no effort to effect change around the fixtures pile ups which leads to burn out of some of the games’ brightest stars before they become national names and there was no effort to prioritise the club footballer, who by the way, is giving up the game much earlier because of the way he is being treated in most counties.
Even when they decided on a motion, like the Donegal one which failed to get Dublin out of Croke Park for at least one of their Super 8 games should the qualify as they undoubtedly will, you were left scratching your head and wondering what in God’s name is such a run of the mill issue doing down for decision at the annual Congress?
This is a management issue surely, with no need to grandstand in front of this elevated conclave.
And yet… and yet. There is a certain method to the madness of the GAA the way these latter day Congresses are set up. For instance, without realisng it this year, this august body of GAA elders made a decision that could that could change the face of the association for the better and for ever.
I refer to President John Horan’s far-reaching project of getting the Ladies Football and Camogie association into the GAA as equals rather than satellite status organisations.
They may not yet have voting rights but they are now part of the GAA’s Management committee and Central Council. A giant step for womankind.
Ironically, the greatest resistance Horan may now find to his prescient move could be from the associations themselves, given that the more they become part of the GAA, the less automny they will have in making decision without their own organisations.
A little of the turkeys voting for Christmas syndrome!
Yet for that motion alone, this year’s Congress was saved by the bell, and I hope it is not too far down the road when we see all women and men’s activities as one. Indeed, who’s for calling out the year we see the first female GAA president?
Overall though there needs to be a massive shake up around Congress to ensure that the annual event becomes real and relevant in shaping the future of the association it has served less than well these past decades.
Why it’s so lovely for lowly Leitrim to hit the heights
Sport always has and hopefully always will embrace the fairytale story better than any other walk of life.
The FA Cup has long since had some sort of right on producing a headline grabbing giantkiller – the first big FA Cup upset I remember was Colchester United of then Fourth Division beating the top team in England of the time, Leeds United, 3-2 after going 3-0 up early on in the early seventies.
Back in Gaelic land, Terry Hyland has doused his ‘David slying Goliath’ magic onto the green and gold colours of lowly Leitrim – a team more often fighting not to prop up the lowest division of National League Football than contesting for top honours.
This week, the sit atop Div 4 and are the most successful side across all four divisions thus far with four wins out of four – away victories against Wicklow and Limerick last Saturday and home annihilations over Wexford and Antrim.
They now face London in Pairc Seán McDiarmada this Sunday and if they win this tough encounter, they are set up for promotion to Division 3, probably along with Derry, who also are unbeaten.
Two teams go up and with their second last match against Waterford, who shocked neighbours Wexford on Sunday, the chances are that Leitrim could already be promoted before making the trip to Derry in the last game of the series.
What a great time it is for the minnows and it should also serve as a proof to the Londons, Wicklows and others that with a good manager and a bit of good luck – they’ve won two away matches with late scores – anything is possible.