Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Ulster counties go for glory

Donegal's Rory Kavanagh (left) and Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly battle it out for two Ulster sides expected to be in shake-up for honours this season
Donegal's Rory Kavanagh (left) and Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly battle it out for two Ulster sides expected to be in shake-up for honours this season

He may only be in the hot seat for a matter of weeks but Ulster Council chairman Martin McAviney has conducted his own audit of just how gaelic football is played at present.

And the man who has devoted 30 years of his life to the role of GAA administrator at club, county and provincial level believes it is time for the restoration of values that helped underpin for the most part the country’s biggest sporting body for decades.

The infiltration of sledging, spitting and racism to compound the occasional episodes of serious violence have persuaded leading officials to take stock and now there is a clear desire for a return to what McAviney describes as “the fun and appeal” of gaelic football.

As the sport gears up for ‘Super Sunday’ next weekend when the Allianz League destiny of several Ulster sides will be decided prior to battle lines being drawn for the provincial Championship, McAviney is anxious that the image of the sport should not be tarnished because of the prevalence of a win at all costs attitude.

“It is very important that we try at all times to show gaelic football in the best possible light,” insists McAviney.

“That could not be said to have been the case in some instances of late. I know that expressions like intensity levels, combative approach and going for broke are all part of motivational strategies but it’s vital that everything is kept within the framework of the playing rules,” he adds.

McAviney is particularly concerned that the GAA’s family ethos should be protected and indeed enhanced.

“We pride ourselves on being a family-based organisation and that imposes its own pressures,” states the Ulster chief. “People are paying hard-earned money to see matches and they quite rightly expect entertainment value, sportsmanship and excitement.

“It’s important that players and managers keep this in focus and that young people in particular will continue to be attracted to our games.”

As speculation swirls around the last round of fixtures in the league which includes the particularly appetising Tyrone v Kerry, Donegal v Dublin, Armagh v Galway and Down v Kildare ties, McAviney is also looking forward to what he sees as a “fascinating” Ulster Championship.

“Obviously the atmosphere becomes more charged as the Championship approaches and it’s understandable with so much at stake that passion and commitment are much more pronounced,” states McAviney.

“But we don’t want a build-up to games that is marked by sinister undertones or which is calculated to undermine what the Association stands for.

“I think we have a fascinating Championship coming up given the appeal of the draw.”

He is urging families to come out in big numbers to support their teams and thus help to create the carnival atmosphere which prevailed for the most part at major matches over the past decade as Ulster teams claimed their share of the major trophies.

“It was terrific to see the level of support that Ulster counties enjoyed and hopefully this will now be maintained.

“We are living in difficult times because of the recession and the ravages of emigration but the GAA is still a vibrant organisation and I like to think that this will be fully reflected over the coming weeks and months,” adds McAviney.

With Congress now a done deal, the Ulster chairman is urging clubs and counties to go forward in positive vein.

“Motions have been passed while others failed but democracy has been very much in evidence and now we must press ahead.

“I think the time has come to stop talking about any rule changes in the future and to get on with playing the game within the rules as they are currently framed,” declares McAviney.

“I think that Ulster can show the way as it is doing in other respects and I sincerely hope that, starting with Sunday week in the league, the province will get another major boost.”

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