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Perpetrators of sectarian abuse need to be caught, says GAA chief

Concerns: John Horan
Concerns: John Horan
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

GAA president John Horan has reacted to the recent reports of sectarian sledging, aimed at northern teams in action against southern opposition.

Anecdotal evidence held that a number of Ruairi Og Cushendall players in their All-Ireland club hurling semi-final against St Thomas' of Galway, along with Derry hurlers in their National League Division 2B home game against Wicklow, were subjected to jibes and insults of a sectarian nature.

However, Horan spelled out the difficulties in dealing with such incidents if players are unwilling to come forward and, even at that, charges can be hard to make stick.

"You're down to the official hearing it and acting on it," said Na Fianna club man Horan.

"If I exercise a bit of sledging on you and there's only the two of us hearing it, that then comes down to one man's word against another and it's very hard for anyone to sit in judgment on that.

"It really is about the perpetrators being caught by the officials and getting it reported."

Such incidents are unfortunately becoming commonplace for teams from Ulster, who have become used to various insults as teams seek 'an edge' in encounters.

The GAA are gearing up for the various provincial launches across the country ahead of the Provincial and All-Ireland series getting underway, with Horan adding nuance to the alarming overall fall in attendances.

In 2018, the overall gate receipts for the All-Ireland Championships came in at an eye-watering £3 million down from the 2017 total.

This happened despite the introduction of a three-game round-robin series for the eight remaining teams at the quarter-final stage of the football Championship, which increased the overall fixtures.

Overall gate receipts were down 14%, while football attendances, taken in isolation, fell by 23%.

"There is a balance in all of this, too. There was a marginal fall in the attendances for the National League but when you look at it, we actually increased the TV coverage for the National League with those four extra games that we put on RTE," explained Horan.

"About 300,000 watched one of them and 400,000 watched the other. Can you imagine those 700,000 belong to the GAA, who if they weren't sitting at homes and watching the matches and they were going along, would the attendances have stayed up?"

Attendances at the Ulster senior football Championship were very low. The excuse of more games on television did not apply as only two games were actually shown live, with a good number of games given differed coverage after BBC NI were caught off guard by the various restructurings of the All-Ireland Championships.

The quality and spectacle of football is widely advanced as one theory for the drop, and with the work carried out by the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, Horan believes the few changes that survived past Congress for this year's National League, have improved the game.

However, given that 2020 is a rule change year, this year's football Championship and next year's National League will be played with the 'old rules', with the 'new' rules coming in for the 2020 Championship at the earliest.

"I think some of the changes of the rules in the National League will come through and help the game," Horan said.

"Talking to defenders at one or two of the launches, they are not comfortable with the defensive mark and the reason they say that is that they have to mark a man now rather than marking space. That may open up play a little bit more."

Horan suggested that some further changes could be made. Some that would sorely disappoint a host of inter-county managers who have developed their goalkeepers to take a bigger role in general play outfield, such as Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody, Monaghan's Rory Beggan, Niall Morgan of Tyrone and Ruairi Lavelle of Galway.

"The kickout coming from the 20-metre line has encouraged more long kicking rather than the short kickout. The one area we could look at is to cut out the backpass to the goalkeeper. It stops him getting involved in the game as an extra man and leads to those kind of defensive games" Horan said.

"I think the changes helped over the National League and we will just see how people take them on board going forward."

Asked if an extraordinary general meeting could be called in order to get the rules through in time for the leagues, therefore playing a full calendar year under the one set of rules, Horan said: "No, that will be next years' Special Congress. Because that's the time those changes will kick in.

"It will be after the National Leagues, but it will be in effect for the Championship. That will be the one. It's a Congress for rule changes in 2020."

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