At GAA Congress 2022 in the Connacht Air Dome, delegates from all over the world came to have their say on the future of the association.
It was a day where overwhelming majorities backed the high-profile motions, while the big debate of the day - regarding age grades for players in their teens - will continue. The day began with delegates passing Motion 1. This motion changes the structure of the inter-county football championship with 94.7% of delegates voting in favor. With no delegate speaking against the motion, it was clear a positive result was on the cards. Tom Parsons the CEO of the GPA spoke in favour and said “players were asking for unity”.
Former president of the GAA Sean Kelly while supporting the motion had a concern “that with three of the four teams qualifying from each group that it may lead to dead rubber games”. He asked that the GAA “make sure the Tailteann Cup is a real boom”.
The effect of this motion being passed will insure each county now guaranteed at least four championship games with one of those in the form of a provincial championship. The other three games will be in either the Sam Maguire or the Tailteann Cup which will be graded on a combination of League status and progression in the provincial championship.
Given the emotive debates on the topic of the GAA schedule at last year's Special Congress, these changes are seen as the beginning of larger change, as Sean Cavanagh and Oisin McConville echoed before Tyrone v Donegal.
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) February 26, 2022
The biggest media talking point going into Congress was Motion 33, which stated "the GAA will prioritise integration with the LGFA and Camogie Association in order to jointly ensure equal recognition, investment and opportunity for all genders to play all sports in the Gaelic Games Family."
Proposed by the GPA, it was passed with an 89.2% majority with all speakers standing in support. A delegate from Antrim addressing Congress made a call for the GAA to support this motion and shine a light on those who do not want equality for the players of the LGFA and Camogie Association. A similar motion will now be brought forward to this years congress in the LGFA and Camogie Associations. How the LGFA responds will be interesting.
The #GPA motion on integration is passed with 90% in favour.
The GAA will now prioritise integration to ensure equal recognition, investment & opportunity for all genders to play all sports in the Gaelic Games Family.#equality
— GPA (@gaelicplayers) February 26, 2022
— Tracey Kennedy (@Tracey_Cork) February 26, 2022
After getting up from his seat on the half-way line, GAA president Larry McCarthy in his address told of being contacted by the mother of an under 17 county hurling panelist after Aisling Murphy was murdered in Tullamore earlier this year.
“At the end of training the coach gathered the squad together, mentioned the death of Aisling and asked them to have respect for women and girls. As the mother rightly pointed out, the 37 lads heard the message, but it was passed on to 37 other people who would have been picking the lads up after training.”
"I am asking coaches, in every GAA club, to take one minute to mention to your team about respecting your female friends. Take a minute to call your buddy out if you don’t think what they are doing is right”. It is a very simple idea. It is a simple gesture in memory of a wonderful young woman which hopefully will have an impact in creating a more respectful society. As Cathy Hannigan, the mother who wrote to me, suggested, it must start somewhere.
A suggestion that was warmly welcomed by all.
GAA Congress: Underage Grade Debate
The reoccurring topic throughout the day was underage grades at both club and inter-county.
Motion 2 to introduce a trial under 19 minor inter-county competitions to replace the under 17 and under 20 All-Ireland championship for 2023, 2024 and 2025 has been rejected. With a 60% majority needed to get over the line the motion brought forward by the Ard Chomhairle only received 55.6%.
In a very lengthy debate player welfare and development was at the center of the points presented by those in favor of the motion. Donegal chairperson Mick McGrath who supported the motion did question the next step after U19 for players on the development process, highlighting the gap from that to inter-county senior level.
Paul Bellew, chairperson of Galway, spoke about the lack of time given to counties to debate the motion and the detail which it offered about when the competition would be run. He also expressed his concerns that there was no details of the competition structure in the motion.
CEO of the GPA Tom Parsons asked for the motion to be deferred as he felt it would place a very big work load on under 19 players. Delegates were told that in the 2023 season there would be both an under 19 and under 20 competition run to insure no player missed out on an underage grade as a result of the introduction of the under 19 minor grade.
Motion 39 - which aimed to give counties autonomy in setting their own age grades - was proposed by Peter Canavan's club Errigal CiaranThe motion was defeated with 60.5% going against it. Rule 6.17 states that Central Council policy set the underage grades for all counties but motion 39 would reverse this decision and allow each county board to make their own decision on whether to go with odd or even age grades.
Tyrone and Longford delegates emphasized that this motion didn’t change anything each county is currently doing but it allowed counties make the correct call for their own counties needs. Former GAA president Nicky Brennan highlighted the difficulty of organising inter-county development squad competitions while each county could have different club age grades playing in the same calendar window. As a result counties must continue to run underage club competitions in odd-numbered age grades (under 13, 15 and 17’s).
With Corduff having withdrawn their motion (40) before Congress and on foot of the discussion that took place around Motion 2 , GAA president Larry McCarthy asked the clubs who proposed motions 40 to 43 to withdraw their motion and allow the GAA to come back with an alternative proposal at a special congress later this year.
So the chairs are being stacked and tables folded and put away as the Connacht GAA Dome gets ready for an east Mayo coaching course on Monday evening. How long will it be before we see other facilities like this pop up around the country as county chairpersons and provincial presidents walk away from the big white balloon where Mayo, Galway and Roscommon intersect?