The new GAA President, Liam O’Neill has outlined his priorities for the organisation during his term of office. Installed as President at the GAA’s annual congress in Killenard on Saturday, the Trumera man singled out three immediate areas he wants to focus on.
He listed refereeing, discipline, fixtures planning and the promotion of hurling; finance, infrastructure and the development of officers; keeping our youth involved, recruiting new members, forming new clubs and the facing the Urban challenge.
“Centring around our games I intend to challenge the organisation to demonstrate that we actually do have the best possible games programme for our children, youths and adults,” Mr O’Neil told delegates at the Heritage Hotel in Killenard
“I see the importance of this being all about balance. We need to decide what level of games we need to provide for our primary school children. We need to coordinate the work of Cumann na mBunscoil, Juvenile boards and clubs and ask ourselves, collectively are we truly providing the best regular programme of games in which our new policy of the development of skills through a games based approach can work for our youngest most impressionable players.
“We need to examine much more closely the balance between club activity and school activity. I believe that a much greater part of games activity at this level needs to be coordinated through County and provincial Games development committees. We need to much better connect School activity to club and county activity in order to keep teenagers involved.
“At U21, third level and adult level I will be insisting that we as an organisation more clearly decide where our priorities lie. When we talk of player burn out are we truly and honestly prepared to make decisions on how we can change our structures to accommodate the needs of our players and as a result place those needs much higher up in our list of priorities?
“It is proper that we all recognise that significant progress has been made on fixtures planning over the last three years. We now, however, have to bring the well thought theory into practise. We have to develop and encourage within our fixture making process the tools and willingness to address those problematical aspects of fixture planning which need attention and together devise a games programme that is balanced and offers everyone the best possible games schedule. I firmly believe Congress, that there is quite simply no other topic in respect of our organisation about which our most important component, that is our club players at all levels, demand and expect much overdue improvement.
“Central to the playing of games and promotion of games is the specific area of refereeing and discipline. A number of years ago we initiated an in depth review of the playing infraction penalty system and how we might devise and test a new penalty system with a view to improving discipline on the field and making our games more pleasurable to play and entertaining to watch.
“It has been suggested to me that our games could now benefit from revisiting our system of penalties. I am considering establishing a new working group to take a fresh look at this and modify the original proposals to take into account good suggestions which have been advanced recently.
“Refereeing continues to be an area of concern to us all. I will be appointing a New Referee Development Committee. They will be asked to investigate new ways of recruiting and training referees. For instance: should we look to recruit retiring players as referees?
“We need to examine the possibility of listing our fouls in Gaelic games into categories that are easily understood. Children who commence playing our games need to be taught the rules and the penalties to be applied for foul play from day one. Our supporters need to understand our rules also.
“Listening to people over the last year it has been identified to me clearly that the greatest reputational damage to this organisation is what others see as the occasional outbursts of violence by, thankfully a very small number of people.
Let me state clearly now that, as far as I am concerned, there is no acceptable level of violence.
“Indiscipline and violence cannot be accepted and it will not be tolerated. It’s not enough however to say it. Our rules and sanctions need to reflect just that and we need to rigidly apply those sanctions which the committed infractions require. Unfortunately a significant percentage of our units and players have yet to learn to accept fair punishment which after all is decided by their peers and is applied solely in the spirit of our agreed rules and for the greater good of our games
“The second area of focus which during my presidency I will direct our attention to is the area of finance, infrastructure and officer development.
“Finance, in these uncertain economic times, is an area of huge concern not only to the GAA but to every sporting body. I want all of our units to tell us what help they need with finance. Do you need help in budgeting? Do you need help with fundraising ideas and methods? Do you need help in the management of our accounts? If help is needed, help will be provided. Our new Finance committee will act a resource for counties, not just identifying difficulties but also suggesting practical solutions.
“In the area of infrastructure the committee charged with this will be asked to examine the current position with regards to our main venues, our county venues and our club venues. We need to be prudent in our spending. I understand completely why, in times when we thought we had money, this organisation, like many others in the country, felt compelled to expand without questioning why we were expanding. Our priority in the coming years is the management of our finance. We need all relevant questions formulated, asked and answered concerning our financial ability to continue and complete the infrastructure programme we have started.
“We continually ask our volunteers to do more and more work for us year on year. I cannot promise that I can change that but I will ensure that we will be continually asking our club and county officers: how can we serve your needs? how can we help you?; how can we empower you to do what you do voluntarily for us? I will be tasking a new committee with the primary objectives of officer development and assistance. It will be one of our most important committees. and It will be the function of that committee to go out and ask those questions of our units. They will decide then what needs to be done and put in train a continual process by which we can train and assist our officers at county, club and national level.
“The third area of challenge is tackling the urban sprawl that has developed in this country over the last number of years. This will overlap in urban areas with our objective of increasing youth involvement to combat the recent trend of ever decreasing numbers playing our games at youth level.
We need to examine the area of recruitment and to plan how we will develop and expand into new places where the GAA is not yet strong. We will decide on a list of priorities to achieve expansion of our games where required ; and we will especially strive through our infrastructure committees to plan and place ,the provision of new playing facilities, into areas where new clubs are likely to be formed.
We will also, in relation to recruitment and expansion, engage with the GAA overseas: to learn from them and to ask questions of them. For example: how do they expand and recruit for the organisation in places where the GAA has never been before? I want us to be open enough to learn from them and bring their experiences acquired abroad back home. I want us then to bring our organisational abilities at home to bear on those experiences with a view to expanding this organisation so that everybody has a chance to be aware of, and participate in, our Gaelic games.”