Column: Miller case a blessing in disguise in updating GAA

Liam Miller case blessing disguise updating GAA
GAA President John Horan at Croke Park. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The GAA got itself into two major public spats over the past six weeks – one of their own making and the other from an outside source putting pressure on them, writes PJ Cunningham.

The Association scored a spectacular own goal in trying to ‘bully’ Kildare football into forfeiting home advantage to play against Mayo in the Qualifiers at Croke Park as part of a double header.

When Cian O’Neill and his county board dug their heels in and said they would play in St. Conleth’s Park, Newbridge or nowhere, it soon became obvious that the decision-makers in Croke Park were on the back foot.

What followed wasn’t so much egg on the face as a big runny omelette. HQ was forced to back down and when Kildare won the hearts and minds of the GAA community in standing up for their rights, all the top brass could do was lie low and hope the saga would blow away.

Just as they were trying to get over that problem, another bigger issue landed in their laps – the call to open up Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork for the Liam Miller testimonial.

Against a background of fudge, a number of well-known commentators and former soccer stars like Damian Duff joined in the call for the Miller family to get maximum return from this venture – only 7,500 could fit into Turner’s Cross (Cork City’s stadium) as against 45,000 potential ticket sales in the GAA’s spanking new stadium by the Lee.

This was an emotional case where a former underage Cork GAA star who became a Manchester United and Celtic player, was being shunned by a big organisation. And it didn’t go down well in his native city.

Due to their initial intransigence, Duff described the GAA as a “dinosaur” and the tensioned heightened when Croke Park said it could no nothing until it took a motion to Congress to get permission for such an undertaking next year.

Once again the backlash meant that this time there was no hiding place for the GAA.
Yet strangely within the organisation itself, many at the top were relieved that this old stance, enshrined in rule, was being challenged from outside.

Unwittingly, Duff was now putting a gun – not to the head of the new President John Horan or new Director General Tom Ryan – but to the more conservative types on the management and Central Council committees who had the power to revoke this rule in exceptional circumstances.

As you probably saw, these two bodies met and did a volte face by agreeing that Pairc Uí Chaoimh could be used for this worthy cause by saying the GAA would do something as well, turning the event into a charitable day.

As UCD historian Paul Rouse pointed out last week in his Examiner column, this mindset really goes back to the time of British rule and the GAA’s then attempts to protect all things Irish.

Much of that was jettisoned in 1970 when the infamous “ban” rule was revoked at Congress in Belfast but there are still a few rules left which need to be cleaned up.
Which is why the front line people in Croke Park were not unhappy that this debate has arisen.

Liam Miller, who died tragically from cancer at 36 leaving a wife and young family, could be the one who obliterates the rest of the old GAA ways which are no longer applicable in a modern society.

The die-hards in the association will say that if this happens, local clubs will be inundated with requests to allow soccer, rugby, hockey and every other sort of match played on their pitches.

That of course smacks of double standard as the GAA depends on baseball, rugby, soccer and other pitches when they play games abroad to cater for the ever-increasing numbers who are exiled.

It is now a case of what’s good for the goose being good for the gander. Personally I think such a rule change would only benefit the GAA.

I’m close to one club who does a lot for its community but finds fund-raising a constant drain on its committees … yet it had to turn down €10,000 a year from a soccer club which wanted to train its underage players there.

That money could be available to them if the rule is changed and since most of the young lads already play both codes, it’s a win-win situation.

Hurling the sports that keeps on giving…

Phew, I’m still trying to draw my breath after the whirlwind both hurling semi-finals whipped up at the weekend. Hurling has given us a cornucopia of great matches down the ages but it’s the sport that keeps on giving under the new format this summer.

Two days where extra-time periods were needed – and while Limerick finally got the better of Cork in a thriller on Sunday, you could not squeeze a shaft of light between Saturday’s combatants – Galway and Clare.

So much for those who thought that Galway were “certs” to win back-to-back All Irelands. Now with doubts over their spine – fullback Daithi Burke, centre back Gearóid McInerney and talisman and centre-forward Joe Canning, we may be about to witness our first ever all-Shannonside final between Limerick and Clare.

PJ Cunningham is a former sports editor with the Evening Herald, Irish Independent and Sunday Tribune in Dublin. He was part of the Offaly senior football squad in the late 1970s under Eugene McGee and served as a selector for Wicklow for three years (2015-2017).

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