Hill 16 on tour on Main Street in Portlaoise
“For all of us, 2020 has been a landmark year for many of the wrong reasons. I have however always strongly believed in the old adage that every crisis is an opportunity.
While for so many the year has been a struggle, for some it has enabled them to reset and re-evaluate the important things in life.
In these times, yet again the members of our Association have come to the fore when needed most – in every parish, in every county. For this, I must complement each and every one of our GAA volunteers.
The early days of Covid in March were tough on all. But that resilient Irish spirit and the sense of community shone through.
Shuttles on the pitch became shuttles from shops to homes and training runs became delivery runs. When we couldn’t play our games and our elderly were housebound, our members used their time to make sure that no members of the community were left wanting for anything – be it shopping, medicine, fuel – or reassurance.
As the summer approached and the evenings lengthened there was a big void in all of our lives. When the fields should have resonated with the sound of sport there was silence. But there were no complaints. We knew there was a battle raging and we knew that the efforts of all our people would be required to win that battle.
We had a glimmer of light in June when club activity was able to resume under safe conditions. The sense of relief was palpable. The goodness of sport, physically and mentally, was never more apparent.
Our Cúl Camps saw thousands of children participate safely in the pursuits they love. Joy filled our fields again and the new normal was again, thankfully, the old normal.
Our club championships were played under unique circumstances with mostly little or no crowds – and with Offaly, Laois and Kildare suffering further setbacks as the competitions progressed.
But that did not lessen the effort on the pitch, or the skill levels – or that innate desire in every player to win their county championship.
As the nights closed in and we approached what would ordinarily be the close season for our intercounty competitions, we were fortunate to get to play our Championships, albeit behind closed doors.
The games provided an invaluable diversion for so many people, even if only for a few hours at the weekend. The fact that every county got to partake in the Championship was in itself a success but there were also many stand out moments.
The achievement of the Dublin footballers in creating history in both Leinster and nationally warrants special mention. The team has enjoyed unparalleled success. Ten Leinster titles in a row and six All Ireland championships.
However, in the wake of the Metropolitan’s historic success, it is unfortunate that some people have decided to target Dublin in a negative manner, with suggestions being put forward, in some quarters, for collective collaboration to prevent a team from being successful.
Yes Dublin have advantages in terms of population and in terms of the finance they can raise. Corporate and sponsorship opportunities offer them access to money not available everywhere – that’s a fact of life. Their continued success helps that process. But the people calling for their dismantling have short memories. It is not so long ago since Gaelic Games was the third most popular sport in the capital.
That has been turned around by proper structures being put in place at club and county level and by a lot of hard work.
Do we really want to see that effort decline or even see it reversed?
Surely that would be counterproductive for our Association?
There is nothing to be gained from division or in depicting Dublin as a problem when, in fact, the opposite is the case. A vibrant GAA in the Capital is good for the entire Association and no amount of misguided commentary can change that fact. It has long been recognised that the large number of people in Dublin, as opposed to other counties, poses challenges on a number of fronts.
The response has to be measured and carefully analysed to ensure that the GAA nationally and in Dublin benefits. It can never be a Dublin v The Rest situation. That’s not the way the GAA has ever operated and it can’t – or won’t – start now.
Of course we cannot sit back and admire the achievements of Dublin and simply throw in the towel, when it comes to challenging their dominance at senior football level. The bar has been set very high but it is up to all of us to raise our standards, to be the best that we can be, and if that’s good enough to win titles then all the better.
We in Leinster GAA cannot shirk our responsibilities either and we will continue to have a major part to play in helping our counties to develop and grow their potential. We will continue to assist our units and ensure that they have the resources to grow our games and to improve standards.
We cannot sit back and complain about the inequality that exists between various counties. For as long as the Association has existed the county structure has been in place and I cannot see that changing any time soon.
But the work being done by our Coaching and Games staff, together with the commitment from county committees and the wonderful volunteers in our clubs will see standards in the province rise significantly. It happened before and it will happen again.
The success of the East Leinster coaching programme is already producing dividends and we are also in the process of extending that model to the remaining six Leinster counties and the response from these counties has, to-date, been extremely positive. This will not produce results overnight but with more resources, hard work and a great deal of commitment the programme will prove greatly beneficial to all counties in the province.
It will also benefit hurling in the province. Last year’s Championship saw Kilkenny end a four-year drought with a thrilling win over Galway in the Leinster Final. The old adage that goals win games was never more appropriate as two green flags in a little over a minute saw the Cats home by two points and hearty congratulations to them.
While we still have to conclude our U20 hurling championship as well as our Minor competitions, I want to give a firm commitment that these Finals will be our top priority when our games can resume.
It is a cliché to say that we can’t have our games without referees, in this regard I want to thank all referees who along with their team of officials gave of their time and showed their great commitment to our games. Their task was not easy particularly in the early days of the resumption of our games, but as always they were equal to the task.
I wish to thank our Referees administration committee and our referees’ appointments committee for marvelous job they did in preparing the referees and ensuring we had a full turn out at all our games.
Some of the areas that suffered more than any in 2020 were Scór, Handball, Games for all and Infrastructure. But I know the resilience and commitment of the people involved will ensure that they bounce back stronger than ever when normality is restored. While the schools programme was probably hit worse of all, we can also use this opportunity to review, and improve, its games programmes into the future.
In the face of the most adverse external conditions possible, the split season was a huge success in 2020. I hope the split season receives the overwhelming support of Congress in a few weeks’ time and I believe it will really change the GAA landscape into the future, in a way that will be hugely beneficial for all.
Amid this positivity it is unfortunate that I must address a number of recent allegations that some of our county teams were training when strictly prohibited from doing so. It is extremely disappointing that team managements would put their players in such a vulnerable and dangerous situation at the height of the pandemic. If this is happening then it is something we cannot and should not tolerate. The GPA also have an important role to play. As a body who have a major role and a major responsibility in looking after the welfare of our players it would be very helpful if they made a public statement condemning any such activity and instructing their members not to partake.
One of my abiding memories of 2020 was the privilege of being in Croke Park on 21 November for the 100th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday killings. It coincided with the Leinster Football Final and it was an honour to be there to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on that fateful day.
It was fitting and poignant to remember the 14 victims who travelled to a match that day and never went home. Three children, a young lady, a player and nine other men, all innocent – all now remembered with respect, dignity and a rightful place at the fore of our history. And in remembering the victims of Bloody Sunday we also remember the many people who have lost their lives during this horrendous pandemic, and whose passing we were unable to mark with a traditional Irish funeral. They too are very much in our thoughts this evening.
At this time I would like in particular to pay special tribute to two stalwarts of Leinster GAA who have passed away. Clara and Kilkenny’s Lester Ryan gave unselfish service to this Province in the whole area of Coaching and Games and was particularly associated with the Poc Fada competition.In June Lester was taken from us in tragic circumstances and all too young.
Just a few weeks ago we lost a great servant of Timahoe and Laois GAA, with the passing of Johnny Dalton who served on the Leinster Council for many years. Johnny was an outstanding administrator and gave a lifetime of service to the Association. To their families, we offer our heartfelt sympathy as well as our gratitude.
I hope that as an organisation we will be in a position, later this year, to honour all those who died during this Pandemic, many of whom had given a lifetime of service to Cumann Luthchleas Gael.
The Representatives to Congress, otherwise known as Trustees will be elected at the upcoming Congress and as the only nominee from our province I wish Kilkenny’s Ned Quinn the very best of luck.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the staff of Aras Laighean and all of our staff across the province for the wonderful effort and sacrifices you made in keeping the show on the road in 2020. It was not an easy time for any of us, but you all demonstrated your commitment to your job and ensured that we defied the efforts of Covid 19.
Finally, I want to mention our overseas units who have also been severely hampered by Covid. The usual competitions and visits were not possible in 2020 but there has been increased contact through virtual means. I’m delighted tonight, for the first time, to welcome the chairperson of all three overseas units, who join us remotely at our convention.
This interaction makes sure that we, in Leinster, are fully aware of and are up to-date with the ever-changing dynamic of Gaelic Games across the World and it also allows us to make these units aware of the changing environment here.
This is an area clubs could exploit by building partnerships with units of our twinning partners, Europe, Australasia and The Middle East. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to look forward to visiting a club in one of these regions – or to have them visit one of our clubs when all this is over.
If anything, 2020 has underlined the incalculable value of being a member of an organisation that reaches out to all, everywhere. The importance of that special togetherness, the shared respect, that spirit of collegiality, the knowledge that when you are a member of the GAA you are part of something very special.
And the leadership shown by our Uachatarán John Horan and the staff in Croke Park ensured that once again we delivered by leveraging our unique position in Irish society for the betterment of our communities.
In particular, I wish to thank the Uachatarán for an inspiring three years as leader of Cumann Luthchleas Gael, he had many difficult challenges, none more so than in the last 12 months, but he showed great judgement in guiding the Association during this period. As his tenure comes close to an end, I wish him and his family well and in doing so I want to wish Larry McCarthy every success as he prepares to take the helm. He can be assured of the full support of all in Leinster GAA.
So despite all the doom and gloom we take the positives from the year and hope that 2021 brings a new and brighter horizon, and that we will get back to concentrating fully on what we do best, playing our games and promoting activity among our young people.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir agus ar aghaidh libh le chéile.”