Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

D-day for all the President's men

President Michael D. Higgins meets delegates at GAA Congress
President Michael D. Higgins meets delegates at GAA Congress

For many of us, it was our first time in the presence of Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

He was addressing a packed GAA Congress in Derry, which in itself was historic and he spoke and appeared statesman-like.

Can't tell you what he said though. In one ear and out the other. Blame Twitter.

While the President of Ireland stood speaking, a raised platform of journalists and a smattering of delegates equipped with iPads were busy scanning their Twitter feed and chipping into some mad, odd and bizarre conversations.

It felt naughty. Like passing a note in the classroom, only you could justify it by claiming you were 'reporting' in the loosest sense of the word.

Once formalities were completed and the hall adjourned to debate and decide on Motion 4 – the black card law – the tension was too much.

Once the result was confirmed – a resounding yes to change – dozens of current players and even an inter-county manager took to Twitter to give their views.

Take a look at the picture that accompanies this spread. Three young men with the President. Congress had a young feel this year, even having a fair few females as county delegates.

Times they are a changin'.

Yet to read the tweets of the disaffected, to their minds GAA Congress must resemble a reunion of the Etonion Bullingdon club of 1957.

Old farts. Suits. Freemasonry tendencies. All the generalisations of the day were flying about.

But while the abuse was grossly unfair and incorrect, it chimed in with a few misconceptions of the GAA – that Congress is full of old men with nothing better to do than ruin our games. Themmuns up in Croke Park are out of touch.

The average clubman has no voice.

Some players feel they have no say with their club committee.

Clubs feel they have no link with the county board and more people again at every level feel there is no thread tethering them to the ultimate exercise in GAA democracy; Congress.

The sense of disenfranchisement is caused by the lack of understanding of how the GAA works, therefore it is easy to latch onto cliché and grasp it like a raft.

Let's go back to the beginning.

From when the Football Review Committee announced its members, it was clear that this was a serious group of football men.

Not only was Eugene McGee manager of the Offaly team that halted Kerry's five-in-a-row bandwagon in 1982, but he won two Dublin and All-Ireland club Championships with UCD during a time when the late Kevin Heffernan prowled the sidelines for St Vincent's.

Add the names of Tony Scullion, Ciaran McBride, Killian Burns, Declan Darcy and Paul Earley and it is clear we are dealing with responsible and clear-thinking football people who are actively involved in coaching.

Anyone could have approached them and said their piece.

Then you had an online survey, for anyone interested to fill in.

Or the option of forwarding an e-mail to McGee. Others chose to send him a plain, old-fashioned letter. OK. Put that to one side for a moment.

For those that complain that the Gaelic Player's Association have one vote, bear this in mind. Practically every player was introduced to and nurtured into the GAA by their club.

Your club has a committee. You can join it and have a voice but even if you don't want to, each committee should have a player's representative.

At board level, every Ulster county had a debate concerning the FRC proposals. Fermanagh conducted a marathon three hour discussion. Down went further, thrashing out their position from 7pm until 11.30pm one evening.

Antrim Chairman Jim Murray took himself along to a county football team training session to take the temperature of what the squad felt about the proposals.

As hosts of Congress, Derry had enough to be getting on with, but they still made time for a two hour debate.

Unsatisfied with the first discussion of the proposals, Cavan went back for a second meeting on the matter, the week before Congress.

While some board meetings hummed with the electricity that impassioned discussion creates, others took place within a flatter atmosphere.

One group of delegates were instructed to vote whatever way they chose because as one club representative said: "It wouldn't be affecting them anyway."

They were quite prepared to sleepwalk into a new game and that's exactly what happened.

Well, they had their chance to have a say and they didn't take it. Call it apathy or boredom, but they just couldn't be bothered.

For those who think they don't have a voice, you do.

It's called your club. Get involved. Don't be a spectator all your life.

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