Seán Moran: Two fundamental challenges facing the GAA once again apparent

Dublin’s dominance and formal integration of ladies football, camogie issues that won’t go away

Last year’s Croke Park revenue stream shows a tumble of 57 per cent from 2019 peak. Photograph: Ryan Byrne

Last year’s Croke Park revenue stream shows a tumble of 57 per cent from 2019 peak. Photograph: Ryan Byrne

 

What were the odds on the first weekend of the last month of the year like no other that not one but two fundamental challenges for the future would arise at once?

Concern about Dublin’s sustained success in the football championship has been around for a decade or so. It wasn’t therefore too surprising that the 15-point win over Ulster champions Cavan would trigger further unease.

No-one reasonable is looking for the splitting of Dublin into two, three or even four regions in time for next year’s championship but taking into account widespread concerns and the remorseless population drift eastwards, surely it’s time to appoint a commission to look into these evolving challenges.

This matter is going to be of central importance for the future and its implications go beyond any desire simply to handicap Dublin.

Nonetheless the GAA has to be certain that the problem has become so grave that redistributing Dublin is the only solution and there will be a lot of debate about when that point is reached even if, for some, it has already.

If so, how many regions: north and south, the four municipalities? Will it apply to Dublin hurling, which hasn’t evinced the same alarming inclinations?

For Croke Park the greatly enhanced, if by no means universal, presence of the games in Dublin has been a transformative success and they’ll require solid evidence before overhauling those structures and abandoning one of the association’s key brand identities.

The GAA is correct to proceed cautiously in these matters but it must proceed – and that starts with a rigorous examination of the national demographic trend, its impacts and possible solutions.

Dublin’s population is ever-growing and is projected to increase by nearly a third to 1.76 million by the middle of the next decade.

On Sunday, another issue arose, as an All-Ireland semi-final venue for the women footballers of Cork and Galway became a kind of treasure hunt before they were hustled out on to the Croke Park pitch in order to get finished before the men from Mayo and Tipp emerged for their 3.30pm match.

For many stakeholders from players and former players to supporters, there is a groundswell of opinion that all Gaelic games should be administered by the GAA.

Free pass

It was probably a mark of how ahead of the times the games were that they had their own women’s organisations at a relatively early stage, certainly in the case of camogie, now more than a century old and to an extent football, celebrating in four years its golden jubilee.

By today’s standards though there is a sense of gender segregation about the separate associations, whose pressurised and under-resourced existences give the GAA a free pass when it comes to addressing the situation of women in Gaelic games.

This wasn’t always the case. Next month it will be 21 years since the National Forum for Women in Gaelic Games was held in Dublin’s Burlington Hotel and seen as of great significance for the future.

Organised by the Workgroup on Increased Participation, set up by the late Joe McDonagh at the beginning of his presidency of the GAA in 1997, the forum was both interesting and enthusiastic.

Then president-elect Seán McCague probably best summed up the mood when he stated: “For too long, we have rejected half the population. Thankfully, it’s turning around and women are demanding their rightful say.”

‘Alliance’ was the theme of contributions to the forum, which considered the need for structures sufficiently centralised to optimise administration and yet not so much as to stifle the dynamism of the constituent organisations.

Two years later, the Strategic Review Committee made the point in its 2002 report: “Formal integration of Gaelic football, women’s football, hurling and camogie is necessary if the task of promoting Gaelic games to 50 per cent of the population is not to be left entirely to two very committed and energetic bodies which, as things stand, have too few resources and very little finance.”

The trail thereafter went cold. At the launch of the GAA Strategic Plan 12 years ago – allowing that it was more a nuts and bolts template – undertakings on that integration had been watered down to “to work closely” “to the mutual benefit of all games”.

GAA officials said privately that the women’s organisations were not as enthusiastic about the integration process and that remains the Croke Park view.

In 2017, the One Club initiative was a success as far as it went, in recognising the reality that the preponderance of male and female players were members of the same clubs.

At the beginning of 2018 came the Towards 150 report on possible directions and radical initiatives for the GAA by its sesquicentenary in 2034 – which was received about as well in Croke Park as the Third Secret of Fatima that was rumoured to have caused Pope John Paul I to drop dead in 1978 as soon as he read it.

Under wraps

The Third Secret was eventually published and deemed underwhelming but Towards 150 remains under wraps.

It did though deal with the involvement of women by reference to the One Club.

“The One Club model is a rational and common-sense approach and exemplifies a grass-roots development that is very much within the ethos and philosophy of the Gaelic Games family.

“The One Club model is not, however, mirrored at national level, with separate associations (GAA, The Camogie Association and Ladies Gaelic Football Association) that collaborate to a greater or lesser extent. A single governing body, at club, county, regional, national and international levels, is now required providing equity for all players.”

And on we go.

e: smoran@irishtimes.com

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