The GAA has published the 43 motions that will go before Congress in Wexford later this month. Among them are motions to open up GAA Grounds to other sports, to facilitate closer working relationships between the GAA, Ladies Football and Camogie and to restrict Dublin to only one game at Croke Park in the Quarter Final Round Robin Stage of the All Ireland Football Championship.
The main long term change, if approved is provisionally listed as motion number 19 and will see Rule 5.1 relating to Control of Association Property be amended as follows:
A) All property including Grounds, Club Houses, Halls, Dressing Rooms and Handball Alleys owned or controlled by units of the Association (“Association Property) shall be used only for the purpose of or in connection with the playing of the games controlled by the Association and for such other purposes which accord with the Aims of the Association, that may be sanctioned from time to time by the Central Council.
B) Central Council has the power, in exceptional circumstances, to authorise the use of Association property held by a County Committee, Provincial Council or Central Council for activities other than those controlled by the Association in accordance with policy adopted by Central Council.
C) Central Council has the power to authorise the use of Association Property which is located outside of Ireland for games other than those controlled by the Association.
The change is a direct result of the arguments that took place last year over the staging of the Liam Miller tribute match at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The decision to stage the game at Cork’s premier sporting venue was the right one but it required a degree of shuffling around with rules and was not helped by aggressive commentary at the time around why the GAA had the right to keep its own pitches only for its own games.
If the rule amendment is approved it will take away the danger of similar arguments in future and would also allow for the use of GAA grounds for major tournaments like the Rugby World Cup.
It does though only apply to County and Provincial grounds and not to club facilities which will remain only for the use of Gaelic Games.
The argument behind retaining the restriction on the vast majority of pitches is that it will protect GAA Clubs from coming under pressure to open up to other sports and camps.
This does run counter to prevailing opinion around the promotion of multi-sports facilities, highlighted under guidelines for the Government’s own Sports Capital Grant scheme that will distribute €40 million in funding towards projects this year.
There is though an undoubted pressure on pitches, especially in urban areas and part of the multi-sport answer in return to criticism is that facilities are shared with Ladies Football and Camogie which are two totally separate and distinct sports.
In time that may itself change as the three associations move towards greater collaboration.
Motion 18 to Congress will allow for a “representative without voting rights from each of the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association” to Central Council.
They would then be there on the same basis as the Director General, also without voting rights but would be a strong step towards closer integration.
Similar motions are expected at the Ladies Football and Camogie Congresses this year.
It has to be hoped that the broad support for closer integration across clubs up and down the country will see this passed with a large majority and that some other political reason does not hold it to ransom.
The third element likely to draw attention is the motion from Donegal which reads “Counties who qualify for the Football Inter County Quarter Final Group Stage shall not be permitted to nominate Croke Park as their Home Venue.”
Who knows what the summer will bring and whether Dublin will make it to this stage in their historic bid for five in a row.
If they do though it will mean either a trip to Donnycarney and Panell Park which could house a shade under 15,000 fans, a second away trip depending on the counties lined up in opposition or the selection of a neutral venue.
It is of course entirely possible that Donegal and Dublin could emerge in the same group again. Dublin could then potentially choose to nominate Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork or Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney as their home ground. Quite how that would go down with fans travelling from Letterkenny or Buncrana is anyone’s guess but it would be good for domestic tourism and for fuel companies like Top Oil who would be powering the faithful fans on their way.
The GAA Congress takes place in Wexford on the weekend of the 23rd and 24th February.