We have come to the end of another year — a year that provided drama, spectacle, brilliance, passion and controversy in almost equal measure within the GAA.
Donegal’s achievement in winning both the Ulster and All-Ireland football championship titles puts them right at the top of the tree but it is worth remembering that Ulster has special cause for satisfaction when any analysis is conducted of 2012.
No fewer than 22 All-Ireland titles spanning codes at all levels under the GAA banner came to the province since January last and this, surely, provides irrefutable evidence that the Association is currently in rude heath here.
Never before has Ulster been home to the All-Ireland club football and hurling champions (Loughgiel’s Liam Watson pictured) in the same year, the inter-provincial football championship title rests here and in camogie, ladies football and handball national honours came thick and fast. But while this unprecedented harvest of success is to be lauded, there is certainly no room for complacency.
As we prepare to embrace 2013, there is still much work to be done if the GAA is to become an even better organisation capable of serving the community better and winning the battle for the hearts and minds of our young folk in particular.
And, in this respect, I feel there are five key issues to be addressed while the New Year is still in its infancy — the eradication of the ‘con men’, improved refereeing standards, fixtures planning, an end to verbal abuse, particularly of a sexual or racial nature, and new dates for the All-Ireland Championship Finals.
Eradication of ‘Con Men’
It is high time that the insidious practice of players feigning injury in order to have other players booked or, even worse, sent off was brought to a halt. This is a cancer within our games — a practice that has been tolerated for far too long.
There is nothing that provokes greater anger, frustration and, indeed, violence than this particular ruse which is rampant at all levels.
Even young players engage in this leading to fears that they are actually being coached in this practice. I feel that particularly heavy punishments should be slapped on players found guilty of this and I urge all county boards to take a united stand against it.
It is reprehensible in the extreme that what is a fine, honest, manly product should be soiled by those who have neither the decency nor perhaps the talent to play the game as it should be played.
There is no doubt that the appointment of Pat McEnaney as chairman of the National Referees Committee was one of the best decisions taken in 2012 and I imagine that GAA president Liam O’Neill was behind this.
To me, this is a big step that marks the way forward. Already the straight-talking McEnaney, a man who never shirked a tough decision during his exemplary career as a whistler, has already made it quite clear that anything other
than the highest standards of refereeing, particularly in our showpiece games, will not be tolerated in 2013.
To this end, the diligent McEnaney has overseen the compilation of a list of elite referees who will now be invited to take charge of all the major championship matches next year.
This is to ensure uniformity of standards, better presentation of games and, perhaps, less controversy — and I for one am all for this.
I sincerely hope that the bold step taken by McEnaney and his hard-working committee will pay rich dividends and that players will respond to the fact that only the best officials will be in charge.
In other words, let’s hope they remain on their best behaviour.
It would seem that we have endless ‘reviews’ of our annual fixtures calendar without any real action being taken to address what is an ongoing problem within the Association.
There is clearly an imbalance in the existing format which would appear to discriminate against the club players, with the apparent emphasis instead being very much on the inter-county arena.
It is high time that all fixtures were completed in the same calendar year and that the log-jam which pertains on an annual basis at certain points in the year – notably March – was comprehensively addressed.
I hope that this matter is raised at Congress in Derry next April. There is far too much disparity in fixtures planning and a cohesive structure should be put in place which would facilitate both clubs and counties and allow the Association to flourish even more.
Let's cut to the quick here — verbal abuse of a sexual nature has been endemic in our games for too long now.
Players making references of a disgusting nature in relation to their immediate opponent’s female relatives in order to ‘wind them up’ is abhorrent and yet it is known to be tolerated.
Obviously it is very difficult for referees to deal with this unless they actually hear comments and, of course, players who engage in such conduct are cowards anyway so they will make sure that their helping of filth reaches only the ears of the man they are marking.
But surely managers and coaches have an in-depth knowledge of their players and might just know the identity of those players who would transcend the borders of what is acceptable and what is basis for a lengthy ban from the Association.
I ask them to engage in a little soul-searching at the start of a New Year and I also appeal to them to banish racial abuse in any shape, form or fashion.
Wexford player Lee Chin and Crossmaglen Rangers player Aaron Cunningham (pictured) have been on the receiving end of this form of mental torture — and that’s what it is — and it has not been pleasant for them.
Society has moved on but the GAA, it seems, is still entrenched in the Dark Ages in some respects.
I have felt for some time that the All-Ireland Hurling and Football Finals are played rather too late in the year.
To my mind, there is no conceivable reason why these superb events cannot be staged in the month of August.
I say this for several reasons — the schools are still off, the days are brighter, the weather can be milder (but don’t bet on it!), the finals will not be in competition with soccer and rugby so can enjoy even greater media profile, enhanced leverage will be afforded other competitions in the September-October period and people who travel to Dublin for the finals can, perhaps, include this as part of a holiday break at what is a more acceptable time of the year.
The ludicrous situation pertains now and again where we maybe have one or two major championship matches on some summer Sundays.
There is no excuse for this — let’s bring the dates of the All-Ireland finals forward.
I know that reasons for not doing this will be proffered quickly but we have heard them all before.
Where there is a will, there is a way — so come on, just let’s do it!