Will O'Callaghan
Will O'Callaghan

17.57 27 Feb 2021


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New GAA President Larry McCarthy says there's an opportunity for a radical change to the All-Ireland Football Championship later this year.

Possible new formats will be debated at a Special Congress, following delegates backing a split season from 2022 which will see the All-Ireland finals played in July.

“If we adopt one of the new formats proposed by the Fixtures Review Committee, which will be debated at a Special Congress later in the year, we will trial it, and, if we are happy with it, we will adopt it on a longer-term basis," the incoming President said in his first speech since succeeding John Horan.

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“Much as we did with the current Hurling Championship, which we have found to be to our liking, but not so much the so-called Super 8s. We will hopefully be bold and trial one of the new formats.

“One of options links the Allianz League to the Championship. It would appear to have the potential to make the Championship competition more competitive, at least in the early rounds. It has the potential to alleviate the issue of non-competitive games which exist in some of our football competitions.

“Our hurling championships have evolved into excellent tiered competitions where counties are competing at an appropriate level."

Larry McCarthy's full address to Congress

It is in the context of a recalibration and a restart that I make my remarks today. I see the next few months, and may be the next few years, as a time of recalibration and rebuilding as we emerge from the darkness of this harrowing pandemic. I do not need to remind anybody that the cupboard of the organisation is bare. The annual financial report and accounts show us the stark reality of where we are. And indeed, while our central accounts are intimidating, the accounts of our committees around the world are no less so.

But, enough, enough of the doom and gloom, not only will we survive this horrible period of our lives, but we will grow, and we will be vibrant, and we will deliver games and fun again to our communities around the world.

Aogan Ó Fearghail mentioned the importance of fun in his maiden remarks as Uachtarán in Ballyconnell, and never has the idea of bringing fun back into our lives been more important than it is now. We do not need the occasion of a big match in Cork or Clones to bring fun back, we just need to get out on the field, whether that be in Ballymun, Bracknagh or Ballygalget.

Uachtarán John Horan suggested to Congress three years ago that the GAA would front up and would not be found wanting in addressing the issues of the day. Let me suggest that in the last 12 months, CLG has more than fronted up, has not been found wanting in addressing the issue of the day, and has not been found wanting in its contribution to communities around the world.

You, and I mean every one of you, have been magnificent in serving your communities, and we are rightly proud of what has been achieved in minding and taking care of those communities. The millions of things that you have done, phone calls to the elderly for a chat, groceries delivered, pitches and facilities given over to public health authorities, fundraisers to help those who did not have security of accommodation or food, have been a magnificient response, but at one level, we are not surprised, are we? This is what we are all about. This is what the GAA does all the time. Our communities, our place, our home.
A few weeks ago, no less a luminary than Dr. Tony Holohan addressed our Healthy Club Conference and dare I say, rightfully, lauded the GAA for its response to the pandemic. We will continue to make this positive contribution as long as is needed, but hopefully for not too long more. Let me take a moment to offer our sincere condolences to Dr. Holohan on the passing of his wife, Dr. Emer Holohan.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dhilís.

The pandemic, perhaps, inadvertently, gave us an awareness that we needed to recalibrate, in particular to recalibrate, our playing schedule.

I am delighted that today we have adopted the split season model so that our clubs and club players will have a defined season and a certainty of fixture. As a result, everybody can plan their lives because people will know when club games are taking place.

I call on our CCC’s, our Fixtures Analysts and County Committees to ensure that an excellent programme of games is provided for all clubs from novice to senior, in all codes. Let us not waste this opportunity.

One of the recalibrating exercises that we have undertaken in the last few years is the adoption of U17 as the age grade for minor competitions. This has been a beneficial exercise, but, based on discussions at the Fixtures Review Committee, there is a desire to review the gap between the U17 and the U20 age group.

Consideration needs to be given to whether the three years is too great developmentally, and whether our players need a structured competition between these ages in order to evolve and grow. The Developmental CCC will review this gap and report to Central Council.

In the next few months, we will decide how the Senior Football Championship will be constructed. If we adopt one of the new formats proposed by the Fixtures Review Committee, which will be debated at a Special Congress later in the year, we will trial it, and, if we are happy with it, we will adopt it on a longer-term basis.

Much as we did with the current hurling championship, which we have found to be to our liking, but not so much the so called Super 8’s.
We will hopefully be bold and trial one of the new formats.

One of options links the Allianz league to the championship. It would appear to have the potential to make the championship competition more competitive, at least in the early rounds. It has the potential to alleviate the issue of non-competitive games which exist in some of our football competitions.

Our hurling championships have evolved into excellent tiered competitions where counties are competing at an appropriate level. We now need to evolve and create competitions where club players can have similar opportunities particularly in counties where hurling is not the first preference of the majority. The creation of competitions under the banner of the Cuchulainn leagues are excellent examples of cross county competitions which we will continue to grow and expand. We are looking to provide a challenging programme of games even if it means breaking down some pre-exisiting barriers. But, we cannot grow or develop any sport from the top down, it needs to grow organically, and so we will take our lead from hurlers in these clubs and counties.

I very much welcome the retention of the All-Ireland junior football championship.

I view this as an important statement by the Association to those who are unlikely to grace some of our high holy days in Croke Park. It suggests that there is credence to the tag line “Where we all belong”, in that players from the lower tiers have an opportunity to win All-Ireland medals.

Another element of recalibration has been our ongoing relationship with the GPA. That relationship continues to evolve and develop, and I welcome the signing of the Recognition Protocol. I particularly appreciate the commitment of the players to the amateur ethos of the Association. This is important because it defines who we are as an organisation, it makes us unique, and as one of the great amateur sport organisations in the world, it is, and will continue to be, an important point of distinction.

The Protocol is one aspect of our relationship and the second is the players charter which will be negotiated shortly. One aspect that I believe needs to be focused on is the the defined inter-county closed season.

We are all cognisant of the need for athletes to have a closed season. We need to not only recognise and appreciate but allow for this down time. In calling on all members of the Association, I include those who may be members of back room teams, to understand that rest is as important as activity in the preperation of athletes. As in any protocol and charter there is an onus on both parties to ensure that the terms are met, and I ask that all members of the Association including the members of the GPA ensure that the defined closed season is strictly adhered to.

The area of Coaching and Games Development has the largest impact of any department in Croke Park on our members. So many activities fall under that banner, but I refer here to two in particular. Our Player Pathway outlines a framework for the development of our players from childhood to adult.
Thanks to the work of, among others, Eugene Young, Brian Cuthbert and Michael Dempsey our Coaching Pathway has been aligned to the Player Pathway. This is an exciting development and will guide our thinking in this area for the forseeable future. Now comes the hard part, the translation of this work into activities and actions that will help, encourage and provide fun for, not only the U15 players in a club, but the coaches as well. A challenge that we are well capable of meeting.

One of the lessons that we might learn from the recent near collapse of democracy in the United States is that words matter.
What one says matters, what one puts in the public domain matters.
In that regard I would ask all of us to tone down the tenor of our public commentary. Social media has wonderful aspects to it, but there is also a dark side. One of which is, in the words of sports commentator Bob Costas, “a corrosive assault on civility”.
Let’s think about that, “a corrosive assault on civility”.
By all means let us express an opinion, but please let’s do it in a manner that is respectful. There is no place for the type of abuse that many of our players, volunteers and officials have been subjected to in recent years.
By all means argue the point in a public discussion, but do so in a manner which does justice not only to yourself but to the GAA. If you are one of those keyboard warriors who, in cowardly fashion hides behind nom de plume’s and aliases, and castigates our officials, players or referees, stop.
Your behavior not only has a corrosive effect on civility, it has a long term corrosive effect on the GAA as it discourages people from volunteering as members of our Association.

I would also ask the members of the Critics Collective to realise that their comments reverberate around the echo chamber of social media.
What is the Critics Collective? It is a term that I loosely use to describe our members who have transitioned from the playing field to the role of commentator or prognosticateur on the national airwaves. Their comments, sometimes well meaning, can have a huge negative impact on our players, referees, and officials.

Nobody sets out to have a poor game, least of all the players, but it happens, and it happens on the big stage as often as not. Rest assured that the players and officials are the first people to know that they have not performed to their potential and added critique can have a distinctly negative impact not only on the player, referee or official, but on their extended families as well.

This was a point made by a prominent member of the Collective a number of years ago. On a national TV show he said that he wished people would realise that he was taking part in an amateur sport, and while he was trying his best, there were days when things did not go well. Today’s players, referees and officials are no different. Measured criticism of a performance is fine, but please, let us all realise the impact of our words.

We are in unprecedented circumstances at the moment. We are not in control of our own sporting destiny. We are a sport organisation without sport – except for our games going on in Australia. We are not deciding on matches and fixtues, nor coaching and games, nor tournaments.

We are operating at the behest of the Government and the public health authorities, and we will continue to do so.
I would respectfully ask the authorities that we be allowed to have activity for children in our clubs once schools have safely opened. We showed last year that we can do this very safely and very effectively. Acknowledging that the circumstances are more onerous now, there is no doubt in my mind that we can do so again.
This will have a three fold effect, it will get our children engaged in organised physical activity with their friends, it will allow the parents a slight relief from the stress of the pandemic, and it will bring fun back into many people’s lives. To the public health authorities, please give consideration to this request. We did it last year, we can do it again.

Shortly after the closing of Congress we will have a meeting of Ard Comhairle. At that meeting the members of the Statutory Commitees of the Association will be proposed. I am happy to tell you that, I believe, for the first time, a female member of CLG is being proposed for each of those committees. I am hopeful that the candidates will all be accepted, and each will make a significant contriubtion to the Association in their own right.

I suggested earlier in my remarks that the institution’s cupboard is bare. It would undoubtedly be significantly barer but for the continued support of our national sponsorship partners. AIB; Allianz; Bord Gais; Centra; Eir; Littewoods Ireland; Super Valu; Electric Ireland have been great partners through the pandemic and we are extremley grateful for their continuing support. Sponsor partners, a chairde, are best thanked, not by words of gratitude, but by engaging with their products. I highly recommend that you support our partners as much as you can.

Allow me to digress here to personal matters and say what an incredible honor it is for me and my family that I am addressing you as Uachtaran tofa. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my lovely wife Barbara, and to our sons Conor and Shane, not only for the support that they have provided me, but also the freedom they have given me over the years to pursue GAA activities. I am delighted that Barbara is here with me in Dublin, but sad that the two lads, due to various travel restrictions, are back in NJ watching on a media platform.
It is also a huge honor for my siblings, Aedin, Patsy, Maeve, Una, Fiona, Neil, Mary and Brian. I have no doubt that my father and mother, Larry and Aedin, are looking down on me, my mother with a wry smile, saying, don’t mess this up.

I have enjoyed the GAA through a variety of clubs, and I am very grateful to each for the significant contribution they have made to the fact that I am addressing you today.

First I thank the members of Bishopstown GAA club for their support. I have been out of “The Town” for many years, but your home club is always your home club, no matter where you are and Bishopstown is mine.

The members of Thomond College GAA Club who gave me the opportunity to develop an interest in managing a club, rather than playing. Allowing me to attend Limerick County Board meetings, and Higher Education Council meetings was an education. I am very grateful.

To Raheny GAA club, where I played for a number of years before going abroad to study. My gratitude to you, and good wishes our club President Tosh Gallagher.

And to my home from home for the last 36 years The Sligo Football Club in NY. To suggest that you were skeptical in the dressing rooms in Gaelic Park when I asked you to nominate me as Uachtarán, would be an undertstatement. Dare I say it, but you are now members of one of the most well known clubs in the world. Famous, rather than infamous. Thank you.

My gratitude to the NY GAA Board, Joan Henchy, Liam Bermingham, Laurence McGrath, Brendan O’Sullivan, Claire Chambers, Tom Fahey, Joe Prunty and a whole host of others. There is no doubt that my GAA credentials come from the corner of 240th and Broadway, and you are part and parcel of that.
I hope that this is a special occasion for the Diaspora. I am very cognisant of the thousands of GAA people who have expanded our games to all corners of the world, but on this evening I think of Martin Grogan in Warwickshire, Pat Uniacke in San Francisco, John Lacey in London, Therese Crowe in NY, Seamus Sullivan and Gerard Rowe in Australia, and Mike O’Connor (Galway) in Boston.
There are two Mike O’Connors involved in the GAA in Boston distinguished by where they come from. Mike O’Connor (Galway) is currently the President of the USGAA.
I also acknowledge two great stalwarts of the Association no longer with us, the late Séamus Dooley in NY and Tadhg Meehan in Lancashire.

As I get ready to accept Bonn an Uachtaráin, I want to pay tribute to the leadership of John Horan. He was thrown into an unprecented circumstance last year. He did not know what he faced when the virus hit, nobody did, but with a steady hand, and an eye on the end game, he has led us through perhaps the strangest 12 months in our history. I thank him and also his family, Paula, Jack and Liam on your behalf.

I finished my remarks after the election last year, by saying that I’ll see you all in Ned’s. This year I finish my remarks by saying, I’ll see you all at a match somewhere, and hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.


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