In his annual report, unveiled at Croke Park on Thursday, GAA director general Tom Ryan said that 2022 had been “a year of change” and there were challenges ahead this year, including those “we can do a little bit better”.
Change included the championship’s trial reorientation to a split season with All-Ireland finals being played in late July, the introduction of the Tailteann Cup and whereas he urged patience until the end of the three-year experiment, there was no doubt how he felt about the matter.
Saying that the new format gave “certainty of dates” to all players, he also had little cheer for traditionalists hoping for a return of All-Irelands to an autumn date.
“Traditions are important but perhaps we have an opportunity to forge new traditions now. I think the All-Irelands will be summer events. We may end up varying dates a little bit, a couple of weeks here or there, but I don’t see us going back to September time.”
There was an interesting reference to the Tier 2 Tailteann Cup, which had a successful launch in 2022, when the director general queried whether two tiers in the football championship would ultimately be enough given that hurling has five tiers.
Other matters he referenced included the perennial one of unacceptable behaviour towards match officials. The GAA conducted a survey in December to “assess the effectiveness of the ‘Respect for Referees’ campaign, launched last October”.
Ryan’s remarks on this were blunt.
“For people that need to be convinced about how you need to behave to referees at matches, we don’t really want them at matches.
“I hope, in time, 2022 will be heralded as a watershed moment and things were different in 2023. But it’s not going to happen on its own.”
On the subject of age grades, he expressed indifference on whether minor should be under-17 or -18 but ventured that the former age group at intercounty “works well” but added that minors shouldn’t be allowed back into the adult playing ranks.
“At club level the debate rages on – should it be under-17 or under-18? I’m not really wedded to either age grade but I am wedded to the idea of decoupling, so whatever age it turns out to be, those players shouldn’t be playing adult club football or hurling.”
Speaking about the amalgamation project with the women’s Gaelic games associations, the director general was adamant and paid tribute to former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, who is chairing the integration committee.
“Integration has to happen. It’s inevitable. There’s only one future for Gaelic games and that’s a combined future. We’re not embarking on this because it’s a popular thing or expected of us. We’re doing it because it will make for better Gaelic games.”
A related matter is the need to have a more gender-balanced 40 per cent female representation on the GAA’s management committee by the end of 2023. It wasn’t referred to in his report but Ryan insisted that the target would be met.
“I think I referred to this last year and that’s the reason I didn’t revisit the topic but we are very aware of the imperative and the reasoning behind it and aware of our responsibilities around it.”
He said that just two week ago, at the previous management committee meeting, the matter had been discussed “in detail” how to meet the representation levels required.
Whereas the meeting hadn’t signed off on a plan, there had been endorsement of the concept and an undertaking to fulfil the requirement “within the time frame”.
“We take the aspiration very, very seriously and will live up to our responsibilities.”