There was so much focus on the newsworthy motions before Saturday’s remote GAA congress – as well as unintended issues created by the format and its technical challenges – that a very significant shift went largely unremarked on in the initial wave of publicity.
It concerned the growing attention being paid to the involvement of women in Gaelic games, a role that has always been complicated by the existence of separate organisations for camogie and women’s football.
Outgoing president John Horan got the ball rolling in his farewell address at the weekend in which he referenced the deepening ties between the sports.
“Our sister organisations in the LGFA and Cumann Camógaíochta have also enjoyed periods of strong growth in recent times. By inviting their most senior officials, Helen O’Rourke and Sinéad McNulty, to be present on Coiste Bainistí, it gives them a strong voice and a tangible example of our commitment to working ever more closely.
“Our memorandum of understanding will continue; our joint representations in pursuit of Government support will continue; and I believe the groundwork is there for a road towards a federal system of alignment between the three bodies – similar to rounders and handball.”
His successor, Larry McCarthy, indicated significant new progress when declaring that his new set of committees would each include female representation when he took their composition to Saturday’s Central Council meeting.
“At that meeting the members of the statutory committees of the association will be proposed. I am happy to tell you that, I believe, for the first time, a female member of CLG is being proposed for each of those committees. I am hopeful that the candidates will all be accepted, and each will make a significant contribution to the association in their own right.”
There has been growing momentum behind the concept of uniting all of the Gaelic games organisations under the one Croke Park umbrella, and the weekend’s statement and actions add to it.
For McCarthy, the first overseas president ever elected, it was an expected low-key debut in office. He had just returned from the US with his wife, Barbara, to take up residence in Dublin for his term of office, which runs until 2024.
At Saturday’s media conference, he played a straight bat – to borrow a sporting metaphor – in the manner of someone determined not to get out early because of a rash stroke, stating that the GAA’s biggest challenge would be “getting us back on the field”.
Asked about his involvement in the intriguing Towards 2034 committee, which was established by former president Aogán Ó Fearghail and its radical proposals promptly shelved after reporting, the incoming president accepted that he might dust down the report but didn’t indicate any great commitment to embracing its substance.
“I haven’t looked at it since it was created but I’ll dust it off and see what is in it. But I won’t comment on the content of it because I haven’t read it in a while,” he replied to a question on the report.
He did point out, in reference to his call for children to be allowed return to play once the schools reopen, that “I only landed in this country in the last 48 hours. It would be wrong for me to suggest I would be optimistic or not optimistic about it. But I am asking it, on the basis of our history and the basis that we did it last year.”
There can’t be any reasonable blame attaching to his reticence to plough into current controversies, especially with the GAA year in limbo and – as he acknowledged when asked about one of the association’s most pressing and difficult capital projects, Casement Park in Belfast – there being no funds to do anything at the moment.
“Well, everything emanates from getting back on the field and you saw the accounts: the cupboard is bare, as I said, and, once we’re back in, then we can have some funding to be able to distribute.”
Getting back on the field remains the preoccupation and, as the period of inactivity extends, the pressure on any fixtures programme intensifies. Director general Tom Ryan clarified comments he had made when presenting his report, which cast doubt on the prospects for the Tailteann Cup, the prospective championship for Tier 2 football counties.
“To be honest, I don’t know what we’ll be able to play and what we won’t be able to play. An awful lot will depend on what latitude we’re permitted by the Government and the time that we’re left with.”
John Joe Carroll of Kerry and Kilkenny’s Ned Quinn were elected representatives of congress (formerly known as trustees) on Saturday and will sit on the GAA’s management committee for the next three years. They replace incoming president Larry McCarthy of New York and Tipperary’s John Costigan
Other candidates were Robert Frost (Clare) and Michael Hasson (Antrim).
Former Offaly hurler Rory Hanniffy was reappointed secretary of the Disputes Resolution Authority, the GAA’s independent disputes tribunal.