It hasn’t been the most comfortable of weeks for the GAA.
When the GAA and CCCC decided that the qualifying clash between Kildare and Mayo should be held in Croke Park, they were not expecting any backlash from the decision.
The rule clearly states that any team drawn first from the bowl has home advantage up to and including round three of the qualifiers. But the GAA decided to overlook this and instead the game was fixed for Croke Park, citing overcrowding and safety concerns for the town and stadium in Newbridge. Mayo fans travel in their thousands, a huge number of Kildare supporters would get behind their team so who would have a problem with bringing the game to the best and biggest stadium in the country?
Well, it turns out that Kildare did. And most of the country in fact. Cian O’Neill has been lauded for his television appearance and suddenly the GAA found itself in unknown territory and were forced to retreat and wave the white flag.
Not one week later, they were again under fire when it was announced that the Leinster final replay between Galway and Kilkenny would not be held in Croke Park but in Semple Stadium. There was not one, but two major reasons why the media, GAA fans and players had issues with this decision.
Firstly, the reason behind the move was that Croke Park is booked this weekend for a Michael Bublé concert. Many people have correctly argued that Croke Park should not host any concerts during the months of July and August. It is a GAA pitch and should primarily be used for GAA purposes.
Secondly, Waterford were previously told that they could not play their matches in Nowlan Park as matches within the Munster competition had to be played within the province. Why then, could the Leinster final be taken out of Leinster? The answer is that the Munster Council and the Leinster Council are two entirely separate bodies. The Munster Council don’t allow their teams to play outside the province, Leinster do.
GAA followers up and down the country have relished in this opportunity to take a stand against the hierarchy within the organisation, no doubt releasing years of built up anger at the problems facing grassroot level clubs nationwide such as, lack of funding, poor facilities, fixture congestion, unacceptable levels of player welfare, to name but a few. People are angry and with good reason.
But before we start grabbing our torches and pitchforks and marching on Croke Park, it might be an idea to look at the other parties involved. It is so easy to point the finger at men in suits huddled up in an office in the far-off land of Dublin and blame them for every problem. What’s harder to do, is admit that many of the issues are created much closer to home.
If you look at the outline of the role of a Provincial Council and a County Board, it clearly states that they are responsible for much of what is wrong within the structures. Members of the Provincial Councils are elected to “represent counties at provincial level, and in addition to the organisation of provincial competitions, both at club and county level, the provinces also play an important role in the distribution of central funds designated for investment in facilities at both club and county level.” The role of the County Board is to ” oversee all GAA activity within that county unit. In addition to organising its county teams, at all grades in both codes, the county board plans fixtures lists for clubs and oversees the general activity of counties across their county areas.” It is within these structures that problems are rooted.
Former Minister of Sport, Martin Cullen gave a damning interview to local radio station, WLR FM, in which he strongly criticised the Waterford County Board over the problems with the Waterford hurlers, especially the handling of Walsh Park.
He stated that over a decade ago, plans were in place to amalgamate Waterford’s Institute of Technology’s sporting complex at Carriganore with Waterford GAA. The plan was to build a 25,000 seater stadium at a cost in the region of €20m-€25m. It was discussed that Walsh Park would be sold to help with the cost of the new stadium with WIT providing the land and money from the Department of Education with the remainder given by the Department of Sport. The plan which Cullen believed was,“a match made in heaven”, fell through.
According to the former minister, the Waterford County Board had other ideas which weren’t feasible and refused to meet with Cullen to discuss the issue.
“The County Board in Waterford wanted 100pc funding for Walsh Park, which wasn’t being given to any other stadium in the country. For somebody to use excuses and blame somebody else for their own failings and inadequacies, is quite appalling.
“I sought meetings with the Waterford County Board, but I was never given a meeting. I asked them and they did not meet with me. I was told that it would not be a good idea to meet with the county board, in fact, it might be dangerous to quote the words that were used to me… In my entire career, I was never asked to meet the county board in Waterford, even though I asked to meet them. Not once. Ever. Even as Minister for Sport.”
Just one example of the many, many failings of County Boards throughout the country down through the years.
It is the duty of the County Boards to recognise and protect what is in the best interest for those they represent. They are appointed officials who get paid to do just that. On top of that, each county elect representatives to their provincial councils. These are all powerful bodies and are an integral part of the decision making process at the highest level within the GAA, nothing that affects their county is put through without their knowledge and input.
If there is a problem that a county doesn’t like then why doesn’t that County Board do their job and take the fight to the top level? Martin Cullen was right to criticise Waterford and it should happen more often.
Kildare proved that when you have a united stance and a proactive committee, you can get the job done. Other counties, such as Donegal are following their lead. If others do the same, then real change can be brought about. This is a unique chance to improve standards and rectify the many failures within the organisation. But it is down to the county’s representatives to tactically and firmly fight their corner.
If a county is mistreated or ignored, then that is the fault of the elected officials. It is futile and inaccurate to shake your fists at Croke Park and say they are to blame for everything. They are just the tip of the iceberg.
We criticise and condemn our local elected officials in Government when we feel we are not fairly represented. Time to bring the same attitude to the GAA.