Given that it was pretty well flagged at annual congress, the emphasis in the GAA’s latest strategic plan on amalgamating women’s football and camogie with men’s Gaelic games under one umbrella came as no surprise.
The ground was prepared with motions to expedite the process at the annual congresses of the three constituent organisations, all of which were resoundingly carried.
Speaking at the unveiling of the report, Aontas 2026: Towards One GAA for All, which was launched on Monday at St Fechin’s club, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, association president Larry McCarthy was asked what was the best-case scenario for integration.
“The first thing is to sit down and talk to them because each of us has given a green light to it and come together with an implementation group or amalgamation group put together between the three associations and we’ll work from there.
“One of our big issues is going to be the middle tiers. It’s happening at ground level, it’s happening with the one-club model and it’s happening through the one-club model at the upper echelons of the association.
“The middle tiers between the provincial councils and the county committees are going to be most difficult, and using the experience of other sports who have had a similar experience and trying to gain from that.
“It’s an unknown challenge and corporate entities can be brought together relatively quickly because they have one objective in life. Three cultural organisations like ourselves, with our histories, are going to be difficult, particularly at that middle tier level. It will take quite a while.”
Director general Tom Ryan was asked about women’s football chief executive Helen O’Rourke’s caution that integration wouldn’t create any more facilities and that the GAA’s pitches would no longer be prioritising men’s activities.
“Camogie matches and ladies’ football matches are being played on the same fields today that they will be for the future, so the GAA doesn’t need to be particularly afraid of or defensive about that.
“But we will need to combine between the three of us and come up with . . . what we have at the moment is not enough for one organisation, let alone the three, so we will need [to do that].”
That was the primary recommendation in the focus area of Governance and Operations. Other focus areas were Games, People, Clubs, Communication and Resources.
Under the People heading, the improvement of the environment for referees was singled out by the president, who was then asked how the GAA planned “to overhaul the culture of respect” for referees.
“Make the respect environment better,” he replied. “If I was to identify another sport, it would be the way rugby referees are treated, and the respect they get is something to be admired.
“So, create an environment where there is respect for what they do and how they do it and also strengthening the process by which we support them as an institution in terms of if there is something to be dealt with, it is dealt with and the referees feel – not necessarily all the time but generally – that they’re getting the support of the institution in its disciplinary processes.”
An interesting idea in the People section is the establishment of an institute to bring together the various disciplines applicable to GAA involvement.
“Consolidate and co-ordinate all learning programmes under the umbrella of one training unit to ensure quality learning experiences for coaches, officers, players, referees and staff.”
It was compared by Ruairí Harvey, the association’s organisation development manager and member of the report’s steering committee, to a kind of Irish Management Institute for the GAA.
It was also proposed that a 66 per cent increase – from €3 million to €5 million – on pre-pandemic development grants be implemented to assist clubs.
Ryan also added that the association was happy with the gate receipts from the just-concluded league season, the first normal one in three years.
“Gate receipts are back. The comparison we’re using is the 2019 league which was the last one that was played on an orderly basis.
“When you compare revenues they’re pretty much like-for-like across hurling and football – and that’s before the finals. Attendances are marginally down . . . there might be any number of reasons.
“I don’t know but certainly we would have been embarking upon the season with a bit of trepidation because we didn’t know what it was going to be; because we didn’t know if people would go back, or how quickly they would go back to matches. So it’s encouraging so far anyway.”
On an unrelated matter, the Central Council decision to approve changes in how the players’ Government welfare grants are administered was clarified. Now that the scheme extends to women Gaelic athletes, it has been decided that the three schemes will be administered by Sport Ireland rather than have the three separate associations doing it.
STEERING GROUP: Larry McCarthy (GAA president), Tom Ryan (GAA director general), Ruairí Harvey (GAA organisation development manager), Shane Flanagan (Johnstownbridge, Kildare), Paul Foley (Patrickswell, Limerick), Pat Gilroy (St Vincents, Dublin), Prof David Hassan (St Mary's, Derry), Dr Elish Kelly (Pádraig Pearses, Roscommon), Conor McCarthy (O'Donovan Rossa, Cork), Tim Murphy (Brosna, Kerry).