When GAA delegates gather at the spectacular ‘Dome’ in Bekan, Co Mayo this weekend, they will find themselves rummaging through the usual Congress nuts and bolts measures, mixed through with some seismic changes.
I’ve been to a few Congresses and stayed awake to tell the tale. I say that lightly as the experience can be wearying when issues are given a good airing. It’s a necessary measure for what should be a functioning democracy, although the level of behind-the-scenes lobbying has been wildly out of control for decades now.
As the day goes on, brains can turn to mush. Those motions towards the end of the day can suffer from ‘Congress fatigue’. In years gone by, some mad stuff has been voted through by delegates with grumbling bellies and plummeting interest levels.
Which is why it is a pity that No.33 on Saturday’s Clár is so late in the day, as the Gaelic Players’ Association proposes: ‘That the GAA will prioritise integration with the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association and Camogie Association in order to jointly ensure equal recognition, investment and opportunity for all genders to play all sports in the Gaelic Games family’.
What does that mean? Well, it’s best put in anecdote form.
The All-Ireland camogie semi-final between Slaughtneil and Sarsfields was due to be played at Kingspan Breffni Park last Saturday. It was a perfect venue, almost exactly halfway between Ballinasloe and Slaughtneil.
A waterlogged pitch meant it had to be moved to the Sunday — but it was set for Gorey in Wexford. An 81-mile trip for Slaughtneil became 210 miles. The disclaimer, of course, is that it happened on a freak weekend of weather with inter-county football matches also called off at short notice.
Last week, Dublin camogie player Aisling Maher outlined how difficult it was for her side to secure a regular training venue.
“Access is a huge thing,” she said. “We (Dublin) don’t have a home ground at the minute as a camogie team. We don’t have a fixed home pitch. So for us, from a practical perspective, week-on-week, year-on-year, we’re waiting to hear what pitch we’re using, what pitch we’re training on, where our home games are going to be played.”
Most people believe ladies’ football and camogie to be ‘GAA’. But they have their own governing bodies who set fixtures, create rules and facilitate the playing of their games.
It can cause farcical situations, such as the Tyrone ladies’ football team having to rent a pitch at commercial rates from the Garvaghey training complex. Or even worse, their student players filling a bus to return to Belfast after a tough training session, watching on as the senior footballers filed into the complex for a post-training meal as they went hungry.
At grassroots level, it leaves clubs that are playing hurling and camogie paying affiliation fees to two different associations.
Here’s the nuance, though. The GAA have always welcomed a greater amount of integration. And nowhere has that been better illustrated than in Ulster.
At club level you have club volunteers running registration for four different codes, but they use the same software. That might sound insignificant, but for the people who are charged with this hellish task, it is enormously convenient.
Earlier this month, GAA Director General Tom Ryan touched on the theme in his annual financial report, writing: “Clearly the three codes can operate to best effect when managed in common.”
The issue is one of those that has no logical argument for keeping things as they are. But if full integration happens, then the GAA will be presented with a million problems.
Who funds the four senior teams? Where is the extra income going to come from?
As professional as they can be, county boards are in a perpetual state of financial struggle, with significant money being diverted to looking after players in terms of equipment, nutrition and training. What’s left over goes on development.
The Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association and the Camogie Association could put all their own problems onto the GAA’s lap, however, if they agree to either disband or a painstaking amalgamation of committees.
All of this can — as ever — be brought back to the words of Seamus Heaney.
“Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things; what’s said and what’s done.”