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How to make 2012 a happy new year for all

By Joe Kernan

We live in difficult times. The economy is in turmoil, serious questions are being posed about our health and education services, emigration is rife and too many well-qualified young people are engrossed in menial tasks rather than in more lucrative employment because of the lack of job opportunities.

Yet for all that we can still dream - or at the very list compile a modest wish list. And in this connection I have four aims in a GAA context which I would like to see achieved in 2012.

The first of these is a desire to witness a strong challenge from Ulster to wrest the Sam Maguire Cup back from Dublin. By any standards, this is a big ask, but it is not an impossible goal - the Dubs are not invincible.

Donegal shot themselves in the foot when they lost to Pat Gilroy's side in their All-Ireland semi-final through their inability to take control of the contest when they led, but the Ulster champions will have gleaned invaluable experience which will stand them in good stead.

And that's why I reckon that Jim McGuinness' side will make a strong bid for the All-Ireland title next year while Derry, despite their inability to claim the provincial title this term, are also more than capable of striking out for the ultimate glory.

It will doubtless surprise many people to learn, too, that I feel a new-look Tyrone side devoid of the recently-retired Brian McGuigan, Brian Dooher, Enda Gormley and Ciaran Gourley could also be in the mix.

Do not rule out Armagh as dark horses, either, although the absence of Kieran Toner could impact on their chances.

It's three years since 'Sam' last rested here and given Ulster's success rate in the All-Ireland series since 2002 this constitutes something of a mini-famine!

But whoever is crowned champions on September 23, my fervent hope that this will climax a championship campaign which will be free from thuggery and violence.

There is no doubt that inter-county football, as opposed to club action, has undergone a clean-up. We must all continue to believe that these standards will be further enhanced and that what is in essence a manly, physical, combative game can be played without rancour and indiscipline.

The image of the Association has taken a battering on occasions this year and its halo cannot be allowed to further slip.

Nor can referees allow themselves to become the butt of jibes, verbal abuse and, worse still, physical ill-treatment.

My third wish indeed is that our whistlers will reveal a level of consistency and competence, particularly in the high-profile matches, that will help to show them in the best possible light and thus improve the quality of entertainment on offer.

We have had some disturbing experiences in the past couple of years which were directly linked to refereeing howlers and we certainly don't want a repeat of this in 2012.

And I would also like to see the GAA take a more precise approach to the postponement of games because of unplayable pitches. On occasion, matches have been called off at the eleventh hour with, at times, supporters already in the grounds.

There is no reason why games cannot be called off in time to avoid spectators being inconvenienced although I accept that given the vagaries of our climate officials can be caught short.

Certain grounds can cope with a deluge or a freeze-up better than others but by and large the propensity for the level of battering which our major grounds can take is now well known and this should facilitate the postponement of games.

Health and safety must always be the prime concern and it is encouraging to note that supporters can enjoy excellent facilities at all our major grounds.

Fixture-makers have no control over the weather but if certain criteria were followed in relation to postponements, especially on the day of the game, then this would prove a great help to all.

As we prepare to step into 2012, we remain optimistic the GAA will continue to flourish. Club and county officials are working harder than ever to ensure that best practice is observed and that standards are maintained.

This not always easy but I think if we can avoid shooting ourselves in the foot - something at which the association has become embarrassingly expert of late - then I feel that the New Year will bring its own rewards.

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