In recent years the GAA’s annual congress has changed to the extent that motions on the clár now have high success rates. On Saturday it came in at 78 per cent (49 out of 63). Drafting has improved over the years and consequently just five motions (eight per cent) were withdrawn this year.
Of course one of those was the prominent proposal to restrict the striking of a penalty in hurling to the 20-metre line. That bit the dust on Friday night and at Saturday’s post-congress media conference, director general Páraic Duffy conceded that part of the thinking behind that decision was concerned with the perceived prospects – or lack thereof – of success.
Otherwise the top table were happy. The proposal to extend match bans, rather than time-based suspensions, to club as well as intercounty activity was overwhelmingly accepted, 92 per cent. Increasing the severity of punishments for racist and sectarian abuse passed by 96 to 4.
Much of the success rate was attributable to those house-keeping motions, needed to update the Official Guide to take account of Central Council and DRA decisions as well as suggestions from the Rules Advisory Committee.
Steered through by RAC chair and rules guru, Frank Murphy the Cork county secretary, these motions were nearly all successful. The one glitch came when for the second year running Cork PRO Tracey Kennedy led a successful revolt from Murphy's back yard.
Last year’s was on the issue of the timely release of county team selections and the weekend’s concerned the move to restrict the jerseys of players returning to the field with blood injuries to the display of either their original number or a lettered jersey. The purpose was to prevent numbers above and beyond 24 or 26 – the maximum size of panels – being displayed. Kennedy’s arguments that the idea was “illogical” helped shoot down the motion, 30-70.
At the media conference Duffy said the motion’s defeat was his biggest regret from the debates. “The only one I was disappointed in. If we’d had it numbers 27, 28, 29, 30 instead of letters it might have gone through but that’s our own fault for that. We might have done it better.”
He welcomed the extension of match bans to clubs, describing it as, “one of the big achievements of this year’s congress – a huge step forward”.
President Liam O’Neill’s address to congress was low-key. Amongst the topics he hit were the reform of Féile, the under-14 games festival, which he believes has become too intense and elitist, a view which has triggered strong reactions.
“It has begun to be treated as an All-Ireland championship. It is not a championship. It’s a competition where fun and personal development should come first. Some clubs are virtually guaranteed regular involvement while others never get to go. The hostility to the notion of changing Féile astounded me.”
O'Neill also outlined a major initiative to develop hurling. "That is why Central Council will now invest over a million euro in developing hurling. Of this, €900,000 will be spent over a period of five years for the purpose of improving the performance of the senior intercounty teams in Antrim, Carlow, Westmeath and Laois. €100,000 will be invested in player development projects in other hurling development counties."
The president was also critical of Government refusal to recognise extra-curricular activity by secondary teachers.
“I know that those who planned the Croke Park agreement did so in a hurry and their haste to find a way to fill an extra hour per week per teacher may have blinded them to the benefit of recognising voluntary extra-curricular activity as a recognisable means of filling those hours.
“Those who framed the Haddington Road agreement do not have that excuse, however. Voluntary extra-curricular activity deserves recognition and it is a source of dismay to me that the Department of Education and Science has failed to recognise this. We will continue to work with the department to bring about change in this policy.”
In his media conference after congress, GAA president-elect Aogán Ó Fearghaill described what would be a key-note of his own term of office, which will begin in 12 months.
"I'm definitely an ambassadorial president. I think there's only one chief executive in an organisation and I would be very adamant about that. Policy is directed by management and by the volunteer committees and that the president of the GAA should have a strong executive chairman role in all of that but the implementation of it is definitely the chief executive role, the Árd Stiúrthóir – I'd be very clear about that."
The Drumgoon Éire Óg club man said he was moved by the prospect of a homecoming celebration as the first Cavan president in the history of the GAA. He also repeated his concerns about the Football Review Committee’s proposals to re-align the provincial championships into four eight-county competitions.
"The most important thing in any championship in any sport is that it is competitive. I'm not sure that moving – last year it would have been – Wicklow and Carlow would that make the Munster Championship any more competitive? I'm not convinced."
Voting outcomes in percentages. Motions need two-thirds majority - 67 per cent - to be accepted.
2: To allow upward mobility from the qualifying group in the Leinster hurling championship if any county therein defeats one of the 'automatically qualified' counties. (Central Council). ACCEPTED 94 per cent to six
32: A player returning after a blood injury must either have a shirt with his original number or one designated 'A, B, C or D' - to stop the practice of jerseys with unlisted numbers being used. (Rules Advisory Committee) DEFEATED 30-70
34: For the purposes of calculating the closed season, a distinction to be drawn between a September exit at All-Ireland semi-final stage and as beaten finalists some weeks later. (Rules Advisory Committee) ACCEPTED 96-4
35: Extending the replacement of time-based suspension with match bans from inter-county fixtures to club activity. (Rules Advisory Committee) ACCEPTED 92-8
37: Promotion or relegation play-offs in league or championship not to count as part of same competition for purposes of 'next match' suspensions.. (Rules Advisory Committee) ACCEPTED 86-14
41: International units to be represented on Management Committee. (European Board) INSUFFICIENT MAJORITY 60-40
45-47: A number of motions proposing changes to age limits. Castletown/Slieve Bloom in Laois want the lower age limit for under-21 reduced from 16 to 15 (DEFEATED 38-62) ; Tipperary's Moyle Rovers propose having a different lower age limit for club (14) as opposed to county teams (16) (ACCEPTED 68-32) ; Monaghan suggest raising lower age limit for senior to 17 and making minor grade the same age (WITHDRAWN) .
50: If counties who have already met in the football championship are drawn together in the All-Ireland qualifiers, the county which won the championship match is to have home advantage. (Burren, Down) ACCEPTED 68-32
51: To reverse the decision to reduce numbers in the Leinster senior hurling championship by allowing four of Carlow, Westmeath, Antrim, Laois and London to remain in the championship after this year - instead of reducing incrementally until 2016. ACCEPTED 95-5
52: To allow Fingal to enter the Nicky Rackard Cup. ACCEPTED 96-4
54: Referees and match officials to be appointed from neutral provinces. (Straffan, Kildare) DEFEATED 16-84
55: Roll back the commencement of training for under-21 footballers from 1st January to 1st December. (Wexford) INSUFFICIENT MAJORITY 60-40
58: The so-called Anthony Nash motion to restrict the taking of frees or penalties to being struck from the 20-metre line in hurling. (Standing Committee on Playing Rules) WITHDRAWN
59: To make pulling or taking hold of a hurling face guard a red-card offence. (Standing Committee on Playing Rules) ACCEPTED 72-28
60: To stiffen the rules on racist, sectarian or 'anti-inclusion' abuse by making it a red-card offence with a minimum 12-week suspension. (Standing Committee on Playing Rules) ACCEPTED 96-4
61: To prohibit alcohol company sponsorship of teams under-18 and younger. (Connacht Council) ACCEPTED 86-14