Nickey Brennan: Congress will deliver more changes for the GAA

GAA DELEGATES from around the world meet for the annual Congress in Portlaoise at the weekend. It is an important event for the Association and the day can throw up a surprise or two regarding some of its decisions.

GAA DELEGATES from around the world meet for the annual Congress in Portlaoise at the weekend. It is an important event for the Association and the day can throw up a surprise or two regarding some of its decisions.

The highlight for all Laois people will be the elevation of Liam O’Neill as GAA President in succession to Christy Cooney. It will be a proud day for the Laois man and his family and especially for all involved with his club, Trumera.

From my own experiences I know Liam’s elevation will be mixed with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. There is, on one hand, the honour of leading Ireland’s largest sporting organisation for three years and on the other knowing that many and varied challenges lie ahead for the GAA.

Most issues relating to finance are discussed at a workshop prior to the commencement of Congress. Perhaps now, more than ever, finance will exercise the minds of visiting delegates. After all, some counties are in a rather precarious financial state at the moment.

I alluded some weeks ago to the general lack of interest there appears to be in the annual report of the GAA’s Director General. Paraic Duffy has noted many important issues in this year’s report and it will be a surprise if delegates do not hone in on a couple of topics.

The Portlaoise Congress has 77 motions down for debate and that will account for most of the business on Saturday. As ever, many motions will provide for a lively debate from delegates.

Player eligibility

A series of motions dealing with player eligibility and player transfers should receive plenty of input from delegates. For a variety of reasons, mainly related but not exclusively to employment, players are moving more than ever from one area to another.

Applying a strict definition to a player’s first club, catchment area and permanent residence may not always be easy and the motions before Congress are aimed at applying a strict interpretation to each of these matters.

The Portlaoise Congress could be historical in that a series of motions are looking to change many aspects of future Congresses. I outlined these some weeks ago and the biggest question will surely centre on whether delegates are willing to accept reduced delegations from many GAA counties and overseas units.

A motion to revamp what has become known as the ‘closed period for collective training’ is likely to succeed, but I have my doubts as to whether the new rule will be observed by counties. This includes the stipulation that under-21 inter-county hurling sides cannot commence collective training until May 1 each year. For the minor grade (hurling & football) March 1 is stipulated as the commencement date for collective training.

A motion from a Meath club wants GAA officers who have served in a role for five years to be able to return to that role after a two year absence. I expect that motion to succeed, but it should generate a lively debate.

PR elected Presidents

A motion from a Limerick club is proposing that future presidents of the GAA should be elected by clubs on the PR system. I personally would be against such a move as it politicises the role of GAA President. Maybe the delegates in Portlaoise will hold a different view.

The contentious issue of when inter-county players are made available to their clubs is the subject of a number of motions. Legislating in rule for this is never ideal, as I would prefer the matter to be addressed by a good working relationship between the team manager and the County Board.

Sadly, though, such relationships are rather tense in some counties, so the rule book is the only way clubs can be sure of getting access to their star players.

Galway, as has been highlighted for some months, will aim to get a new structure for the under-21 hurling championship. The Tribesmen are looking for four groups of four teams, with the winners of each group getting through to the semi-finals.

I just hope the proposer of this motion identifies where the GAA is going to find the extra dates to play all the games without impacting on club competitions. And maybe the Wexford club, proposing a motion to have a ‘back-door’ in the under-21 hurling championship, might do likewise.

These are but a few of the 77 motions down for debate next Saturday. Some will fall by the wayside easily, with a few being withdrawn; more will pass or fail without much debate, while the remainder will bring big changes in the GAA if passed.

Attending a GAA Congress may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is an essential part of the democracy of an organisation that is hugely important to many in this country.