Liam O’Neill reveals GAA facilities offer to Athletics Ireland
Association also exploring unification with women’s Gaelic games
GAA President Liam O’Neill: ‘We’re waiting now just to talk to the Ladies Football Association so that move is not an aspiration any longer; it’s actually heading strongly in that direction.’ Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
In a wide ranging press conference at yesterday’s launch of the new strategic plan for rounders, GAA president Liam O’Neill revealed that the GAA were exploring a partnership with Athletics Ireland and also that it is hoped to secure formal approval for the unification of the GAA and the women’s Gaelic games organisations.
“The move . . . is gathering a bit of momentum,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re aware that the Central Council of the GAA has already approved the putting forward of a motion to congress next year to begin the unification process. Camogie has also [put forward a motion to its congress].
“We’re waiting now just to talk to the Ladies Football Association so that move is not an aspiration any longer; it’s actually heading strongly in that direction.”
He announced that he and association director general Páraic Duffy were due to meet the women’s association Cumann Peil na mBan last night.
“The procedure with each organisation has been to invite along the presidents and CEOs of the two other organisations to be present while the idea is discussed.
“We want to be as open and transparent as possible so that everyone is aware of the possibilities and let the host organisation question the other organisations about how they envisage it developing.
“We’re only at the start and are deciding to put a motion to our respective congresses next year to begin the serious business of the integration process.”
O’Neill said the process would complement the drive to promote rounders, which he believes is the ideal recreational sport for the GAA, as it can be played by mixed-gender teams as well as players of any age.
“All you need for rounders is eye-hand co-ordination. Teenagers and adults can play it; children and teenagers can play it in a mixed game because size doesn’t matter as long as you can strike the ball and get around the base – it’s completely non-contact – it’s totally inclusive.”
He also announced that Croke Park would subsidise equipment for the first 1,000 GAA clubs to agree to play the sport, which was listed as a Gaelic game at the foundation of the association, 129 years ago this month, and that clubs forming teams would not have to pay any further registration charges.
“All you need for rounders is eye-hand co-ordination,” according to the president. “Teenagers and adults can play it; children and teenagers can play it in a mixed game because size doesn’t matter as long as you can strike the ball and get around the base – it’s completely non-contact and it’s totally inclusive.”
The sport hopes to increase in the next three years from 21 clubs nationally to 35, 600 players to 2,000 and bring the number of schools involved up from 100 to 250. It is also to be known in future as GAA Rounders.
The initiative with athletics is based on the GAA’s offer to provide facilities in return for AI sharing its expertise in areas.
“We’re just saying that if we have grounds and the Government would like to put a track regionally and strategically, we’re saying we’re open to that.
“During the day time when school is on our facilities aren’t used to their max so there would be a possible chance of schools using it for athletics. Athletics Ireland and the sport have expertise in fitness, diet, nutrition and all that sort of stuff that we need too so we could very usefully form a link which would be of no great cost to either organisation but of huge benefit.”
“ They obviously have to go off and see the feasibility of it and we have to look at it too. It’s just an idea we said we’d put out. If in 20/30 years’ time we had an Olympic medal won by somebody who wouldn’t have been introduced to the sport had we not made the offer, wouldn’t that be a fantastic achievement?”
The president also gave the strongest indication yet that the GAA may have to intervene to monitor club schedules in counties.
He said that the recent concerns of the GAA’s Medical Scientific and Welfare committee at the shoe horning of club matches into tight timetables were challenging the association to address the issue.
“There is an urgency to it. It was very welcome that they gave a view because now it’s not coming from us. There’s a basis for this now outside of simple administration or a simple wish by what people view as Croke Park imposing its will. That intervention has certainly opened the door for us to take a more serious look at it.”
Finally he declined to elaborate on comments by GAA commercial director Peter McKenna on Today FM that he had an “open agenda” in relation to discussing television rights with Sky Sports.
“No I didn’t hear it. Negotiations are at a very early stage and anything I say here today wouldn’t be helpful to that process. Gaelic games are important to us and the promotion of them is the means by which we get people interested in them. But we’re at an early stage and I’m certainly not going to say anything that will interfere with the process.”
Asked was pay-per-view on the agenda, he replied: “I don’t know. At this stage I don’t really know. We haven’t gone that road yet.”