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comment How GAA top brass still rule the roost if it comes to making changes to the rules

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An aerial shot of Croke Park

An aerial shot of Croke Park

An aerial shot of Croke Park

There was a character called CJ in the 1970s BBC sitcom ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.’

His famous catchphrase ‘I didn’t get where I am today by…’ is an apt description of how the GAA hierarchy recently manipulated their own democratic process to get their way on two key policy issues.

The GAA didn’t get to where they are today by being subservient - even to their own members. As they say in Las Vegas ‘the house always wins’.

The take-home message is that it’s the mandarins in Croke Park and in the provincial councils, rather than rank-and-file members, that dictate policy issues.

In theory any GAA member can propose a policy initiative. Provided sufficient support is garnered at club and county level the proposal will be debated at the association’s annual Congress. But it’s not that straightforward.

There were two separate issues last week which demonstrated where the real power lies in the GAA.

Firstly, there was reform of the All-Ireland football championship. Just to briefly recap, at a special Congress in October a plan labelled Proposal B – which had been recommended by a Task Force – and supported from just over 50% of the delegates – was ten percent short of the required 60 percent majority needed.

One of the key elements of the plan was that the provincial championships would be stand-alone competitions. Instead, the Allianz League would become the feeder competition for a two-tier All-Ireland series.

Predictably, the Provincial Council were bitterly opposed to the plan and the bigger counties like Dublin, Kerry, Galway and Mayo didn’t back it either.

Sensing the mood for change, GAA President Larry McCarthy formed a new committee to review the options and bring forward a new proposal for debate at next month’s annual Congress.

However, the inclusion of four Provincial Council vice-chairman on the committee gave the game away.

Even before the new committee began their deliberations, we knew the wind had changed directions so to speak. Granted the new committee did include a revised Proposal B in their final report.

But they also dusted down a proposal made by ex-GAA President Sean Kelly in 2012 which maintained the link between the provincial and All-Ireland series.

The language they used betrayed their feelings. The tweaked Proposal B was titled the Red Plan, while the Sean Kelly blueprint was called the Green Plan.

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Guess what happened at the Central Council meeting last weekend? The Green Plan got the green light.

It is assumed that the Green Plan will be rubber stamped at Congress at the end of next month and be introduced for a three-year experimental period beginning in 2023.

It will fail because it is fundamentally flawed. Think about this: under the Green Plan the two-tier All-Ireland football championship will now be decided on an interlinked round robin (the Allianz League), knock-out (provincial championships), round-robin (new All-Ireland group phase) and knock-out (All-Ireland quarter-final, semi-final, final) format.

Worse still, in the round-robin All-Ireland group phase 24 games involving 16 counties will be played over a three-week period to eliminate four counties. I rest my case.

Only GAA anoraks would be aware of the second issue where the hierarchy bared their teeth.

For more than 15 months there has been a campaign spearheaded by former Westmeath footballer John Connellan to persuade the GAA to introduce a more equitable method of distributing their multi-million euro coaching and games development budget.

Since its introduction in 2007 it has been heavily weighted in favour of Dublin, with the capital county receiving over €20.1m of the total budget of €57.7m.

The Connellan group proposed that the fund be distributed based on registered players, with the smaller counties having the option to apply for additional money for specific projects.

Delegates at the Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Clare, Westmeath and Tyrone Conventions all backed the motion.

Meanwhile, having promised a review for years, the GAA finally announced before Christmas that a Task Force had devised a new model and mechanism for the distribution of the fund.

What happened next was entirely predictable. The sponsors of the motion were informed by Croke Park that the Rules Advisory Committee, which examines all motions submitted to Congress, had ruled that their proposal was out of order.

A re-worded motion was submitted but it too was ruled out of order for a different technical reason.

Instead, the motion was forwarded for discussion behind closed doors at last Saturday’s Central Council meeting at which the Task Force’s plan was also unveiled.

So the issue will not be debated on the floor of Congress next month.

The merit of the ‘Connellan motion’ is irrelevant. What matters is the GAA found a way to (a) avoid what could have been a very contentious debate at Congress and (b) eliminate any prospect that the proposal would be passed.

They didn’t break any rules - but they still managed to get their way.

The GAA’s version of democracy has elements of an autocracy running through it.

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