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all change GAA has played a blinder during Covid pandemic, but incoming president has a tough task ahead

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GAA president John Horan, right, with the incomimg Larry McCarthy during the GAA Annual Congress 2020

GAA president John Horan, right, with the incomimg Larry McCarthy during the GAA Annual Congress 2020

GAA president John Horan, right, with the incomimg Larry McCarthy during the GAA Annual Congress 2020

SIX weeks before last year’s GAA Congress the first European case of Covid-19 was reported in France.

A month before Congress the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a public health emergency, and just a week before delegates gathered in Croke Park Italy reported a cluster of cases around Lombardy.

Covid-19 was never mentioned during the two-day gathering, which was dominated by the election of a new President, Larry McCarthy, the first overseas-based candidate to hold the office.

In fairness, who could have foreseen 12 months ago how much our lives would be turned upside down by Covid-19.

Little did current President John Horan or McCarthy – who takes up his position at the end of the month – know that their roles would be shaped by how they steered the organisation through the world’s first pandemic in 100 years.

There was no playbook to rely on. Horan’s presidency had been relatively nondescript during his first two years.

His critics would point to his failure to even acknowledge the need to address Dublin’s dominance in Leinster and, to a lesser extent, of the All-Ireland series and the imbalance in the distribution of Croke Park’s coaching budget, as his Achilles heel.

What cannot be denied, however, is that Horan and the GAA’s full-time officials scarcely put a foot wrong in their handling of the pandemic.

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Dublin players celebrate after their All-Ireland victory in December

Dublin players celebrate after their All-Ireland victory in December

Dublin players celebrate after their All-Ireland victory in December

They were hounded by many commentators for being slow to re-start activity, but their prudence was well founded.

One suspects if members of the Cabinet knew what was coming down the line, they would have listened more to the advice they were receiving from NPHET last summer rather than being swayed by the lobbyists working on behalf of the hospitality industry and their cheer-leaders in the media.

Furthermore, prioritising the resumption of club activity – which was also criticised – proved an inspired choice too.

Unwittingly, it solved one of the organisation’s trickiest problems – the conflict between club and county which had become increasingly intractable in the last decade.

It was the GAA’s equivalent to the smoking ban in pubs. Once people saw how it worked there was no going back to the old ways.

It is a foregone conclusion that delegates will back proposals for a split season at this year’s Congress at the end of the month.

Of course, there were hiccups, most particularly with post-county final celebrations. But once the issue was highlighted, they acted swiftly and closed the club season down.

I had grave reservations about the GAA’s decision to go ahead with the All-Ireland series when the country was in its second lockdown. I would be the first to admit I was wrong.

Heaven help us if we had to endure November, December, January, February, and probably most of March, without any GAA activity. The mental health of the nation would be in an even worst state than it is.

Granted, the GAA were fortunate that Taoiseach Micheál Martin gave his personal imprimatur to the project and ensured that Government funding was made available.

Horan's handling of the Covid-19 crisis will stand the test of time.

For his successor Larry McCarthy, who will be based full-time in Ireland during his three-year term, the challenges are even more daunting.

There is virtually no prospect of spectators being allowed back to see matches in the All-Ireland series in 2021, so the GAA’s cumulative losses by the end of this year are likely to succeed €100m.

Even for an organisation as financially sturdy as the GAA, this is an enormous hit to absorb.

The bulk of the GAA’s surplus in ploughed back into the organisation.

County Boards and clubs, who themselves are strapped for cash, can expect significant cuts in their income from Croke Park for the rest of the decade.

Controversial issues such as putting more high-profile championship games behind a TV paywall and the sale of the naming rights of Croke Park will be on the agenda.

The new President as a big in-tray to deal with. We wish him well.

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