Note to Donegal county chairman – almost all publicity is good publicity
At the foundation of the GAA in Hayes' Hotel, Thurles, 1884, Michael Cusack and others gathered to form a sporting body. Among their number was a John McKay, originally from Downpatrick, who was at the time a journalist with the Belfast Morning News.
Last Sunday, the Donegal county convention took place without any members of the media present – they were engaged in a boycott because the meeting could be deemed 'in camera', retrospectively. That jargon translates into the power, held by chairman Sean Dunnion, to say that anything discussed at the meeting could be made 'off-the-record', even after the event. Rightly insulted at such conditions, the press bared their teeth and decided to ignore the event en-masse.
The problem is not just confined to Donegal. More and more county boards see themselves as a corporate-type organisation that will not tolerate any dissent from within the ranks and hate the reporting of different viewpoints.
The GAA has never been quite as divided as how Brendan Behan used to describe the first meeting on the agenda of any meeting of the old IRA ('The Split', Behan would say), but by and large there has been a healthy respect for debate that has served it incredibly well.
There has always been a place for speeches delivered by persuasive GAA officials, that could swing a contested decision.
Sometimes, the decisions reached were not always popular, and as a result some members have walked away from GAA politics, deciding it is not for them. Rather than getting hung up on this, we should recognise that at times this kind of blood-letting is only natural in a healthy democracy.
In an interview just over a year ago, the GAA's director general Paraic Duffy said he wasn't concerned about the odd critical voice when it came to GAA matters. It was remarkably similar to something Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy mentioned a few months earlier, to the effect that – within reason – most publicity is good publicity.
Last weekend, one Donegal newspaper had eight pages designated for the county convention; the back page and seven inside pages. Due to the standoff, the convention received barely a passing mention.
The pages were filled with underage soccer presentations, soccer reports and three pages of boxing.
As you can see John McKay, we have come a long way ...