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McBurney/Declan Bogue

Pictured Declan Bogue

Date: Thursday 12th April 2012

Location: BT Offices

Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney - RAZORPIX


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Why GAA is crying out for someone like Burns as its new president

Declan Bogue


In running: Former Armagh ace Jarlath Burns

In running: Former Armagh ace Jarlath Burns

�INPHO/James Crombie

Larry McCarthy

Larry McCarthy

Cathal McShane

Cathal McShane

In running: Former Armagh ace Jarlath Burns

In popular imagination, the role of president of the GAA is determined by a series of physical and mental challenges. The most important is the ability to embark upon a three-course meal. Vegetable soup for starter, of course, then continue in the house style of turkey and ham as the main course followed by pavlova.

Then comes delivering a speech, working the room, maintaining eye contact as you shake hands with 300 people and then remembering all their Christian names by the end of the evening.

There are strict doping controls, of course. To be seen fiddling with anti-indigestion tablets is a no-no. This is a test of stamina, after all.

We joke, of course. But such a scenario wouldn't be far off the estimation of many in the GAA who have developed a distrust of top-end administrators over the last decade or so.

The 'GAA suit' has always been a target of derision, but decisions pushed by Central Council in recent years - the introduction of a Tier Two All-Ireland football competition, granting broadcast rights to subscription-based television channels, the Super8s and Dublin being handed home advantage in two games of the group format - all feed into what is termed as the 'disconnect' between those that run the Association and its members.

It's mainly nonsense, but the GAA has experienced problems in getting its own message out there in the new century.

This Friday night, delegates to GAA Congress will decide upon who will be the 40th president of the Association. How they are picked will tell us much about the nature of GAA politics.

Three of the candidates are Jim Bolger (Carlow), Jerry O'Sullivan (Cork) and Mick Rock (Roscommon). There are no scientific means of measuring these things, but each of them are believed to have little chance.

Instead, the two frontrunners are former Armagh captain Jarlath Burns and somebody who is considered to be an 'international' candidate in Larry McCarthy of the New York board.

The inclusion of McCarthy is intriguing. Originally from Cork, he is a trustee of the GAA, a member of the Management Committee and an associate professor of management at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, specialising in sports marketing. Why his candidacy is so strong comes from the considerable block of votes for overseas units.

In interviews, McCarthy has set out his primary objective as to "continue to grow and develop the GAA around the world. This entails supporting each of the administrative units in their plans. For instance, supporting Waterford with the development of Walsh Park, or the Australasian board with administrative assistance, so each unit can continue to evolve and grow as it sees fit".

That's the kind of thing that wins votes in a race such as this and he has further strong connections from having served on a committee installed by current president John Horan.

But what the GAA needs right now is a strong voice and one that is trusted and familiar. If there is indeed a disconnect - even if it only exists on the lips and laptop fingertips of the populists - then the man to mend it is Burns.

In simple terms, there can scarcely be anyone as rooted in club activity to have gone for this post. Burns is the current secretary of his club, Silverbridge Harps. Last week he was pictured umpiring a ladies' game. He's good on the bread and butter stuff.

When Silverbridge needed to erect some ballstops for behind their goals, he was there with the work trousers and boots on, being the willing butt of the tradesmen's jokes about his tools being manufactured by Fisher Price.

He played his last game at the age of 51 two summers ago in the reserve Championship.

In 2012, my home club Tempo Maguires won the Fermanagh Championship and league double. I asked Burns if he would kindly come to the celebratory dinner dance to give the main speech. He arrived having fully researched the history of the club and recent achievements. He refused to take a penny for his troubles.

He's also very strong on the macro. As a father of a current inter-county footballer, he is not anti-player in any sense, but can see where the current levels of expenditure - estimated at just under €30m (£25m) for preparing county teams annually - is taking us.

"I would seek to reduce the amount of county finance that is currently being spent on the preparation of county teams. This is going to be a challenge, but we cannot continue as we are going," he has stated.

He also has plans for a Strategic Review and a 10-year plan that addresses the demographics at play, both in his idea for an 'amalgamation toolkit' for rural areas, and also in making inroads in towns and cities.

The world over, elections are full of false promises and spin. What the GAA needs right now is a man with some authenticity, some dirt under the fingernails.

And it needs him for the next three years.

Optimism surrounding Tyrone has vanished with McShane's injury

It's often said that the National Leagues are the most finely-balanced competitions in the GAA considering how teams with similar abilities are pitched against each other week in, week out.

That does nothing to explain the sheer amazement of the margin that existed between Galway and Tyrone at the end of Sunday's meeting in Tuam Stadium. 19 points was a huge gulf, even allowing for the context of the Red Hands being down to 13 men and the late scoring burst from the victors.

It was, as has been widely noted, a record defeat for Tyrone under Mickey Harte, the type they routinely doled out to opponents themselves.

But they will get over that in short time. What they will find incredibly hard to deal with is the loss of Cathal McShane through a terrible ankle injury that will have him out until the Super8s, should Tyrone reach that stage.

The league's in-built competitiveness ensures that many storylines present themselves like low-hanging fruit, 'oven-ready' as Boris Johnson might put it.

Even allowing for that, it is remarkable how the narrative surrounding Tyrone has completely transformed in a fortnight.

Two weeks ago, they had beaten Kerry in Edendork. That week, the news came that McShane had turned his back on an opportunity to play Aussie Rules Football with Adelaide Crows and instead was to take up employment with a firm within the county.

In truth, he probably never truly wanted to go. This is a lad who, according to clubmates, used to have a bit of loose pocket money from his parents. What did he spend it on?

Well, he used to give it out to the youngsters around his Owen Roes, Leckpatrick club who would stand behind the goals and kick the footballs back when he went down by himself to practice his shooting as a teenager.

When Tyrone were beaten in last year's All-Ireland semi-final by Kerry, they went to Forbes' Bar in Ardboe to let their hair down on the Monday.

The bar is ran by former Tyrone great Brian McGuigan, and that day his father Frank was working the counter.

McShane spent most of the day trying to prise gems of information out of 'The King' about how to play as a full-forward.

In the days after, the news emerged that Conor McKenna was coming home from Essendon to stay in Tyrone for a while.

Naturally, that made Red Hands fans very excited - but he will be returning to Australia.

The optimism around the county has gone like a puff of smoke.

What happens in Omagh this Saturday when Dublin come to town will be of utmost concern.

Belfast Telegraph