Remote congress a hard slog as split season and sin bin make it through

Main debate on experimental disciplinary rules was more thorough than expected

GAA director general Tom Ryan expressed it best in the course of answering how he felt that the association’s first remote congress had gone. “I just hope it’s the last one we have to do like that.”

Despite incoming president Larry McCarthy’s breezy assessment that it had worked “exceptionally well,” it had been a hard slog with delays to voting and at one point a radio report on the rugby international eerily beaming out to delegates and observers.

The slowness of the voting had given a practical benediction to the idea that any contentious motions would be better tabled for a special congress later in the year when the hope is that things might be a bit more normal.

But McCarthy was right that the main debate of the day, on the trialling of experimental disciplinary rules, had been thorough and as he said,”we actually had a more vigorous debate on Motion 20 than we anticipated”.

This was one of the big-ticket items on a low-key clár. Unlike the acceptance of the split season and its main provision of All-Ireland finals in July, which sailed through unanimously, the experimental extension of law-and-order to hurling was as usual fought inch by inch before getting a clear 168-108 majority.

The twin sanctions of a penalty and sin-binning for anyone depriving an opponent of a goal-scoring opportunity will also apply in football but the big-ball game already had its sin-bin so the culture shock will be felt more keenly in hurling.

The top table was very pleased with the outcome. “I’m delighted it passed,” said McCarthy. “I’m absolutely delighted that it passed. There’s cynicism in all sports. The sooner we can clamp down on it, the better. And I think this rule will address that.”

Process

Ryan praised the process. “I think it got a good airing, and I think everyone who wanted to speak, got a chance to speak on it. Also the thing to bear in mind is it’s a trial. We shouldn’t be afraid to embark upon new things and try new things, and I think it will make a difference.”

Coincidentally, outgoing president John Horan, who had also expressed himself pleased with the decision, which he ordained should take place on the day despite arguments that it was too contentious for virtual voting, in his final speech stressed the importance for the GAA of discipline.

“Leadership is about making decisions,” he said. “I think in the main that as an association nationally we took those hard decisions when we had to do so. There were times too when leadership also meant accepting the consequences of our decisions. There has not always been a culture in the GAA of taking responsibility for our actions.

“All too often a punishment is met with a resolve to look for a loophole or a technicality to get off the hook.

“In this context I would single out leadership shown in Armagh, Down and Cork county boards and in Dungarvan GAA Club when they had to take action over Covid breaches and severe punishment was merited, was issued and was accepted. This sets an example more should follow.”

He was maybe being a bit kind to Cork and Down, whose football managers were suspended for conducting team gatherings outside of the stipulated calendar window, as in both cases the initial decision had been challenged but no appeal was lodged.

McCarthy also revealed that Offaly chair Michael Duignan had contacted officials to acknowledge that points he had made in commenting on the financial report about Dublin's unfair funding advantages had been based on figures incorrectly published and subsequently corrected.

“I think he retracted some of the comments he made in a message to us later. His figures might have been incorrect and I think he acknowledged that. In the current circumstances where finances are dire, there will obviously have to be a review of financing. So I’ll just leave it at that, rather than delving into the nuances of equalisation.”