Martin Kiely Column: Strong words at last

In his weekly Limerick Leader GAA Column, Martin Kiely reports on the West Limerick GAA convention, where chairman Pat O’Donnell had plenty to say.

In his weekly Limerick Leader GAA Column, Martin Kiely reports on the West Limerick GAA convention, where chairman Pat O’Donnell had plenty to say.

It was refreshing to see such vision and hear thought-provoking words from a GAA official in Limerick.

The words were issued deep in the heart of West Limerick at the Divisional Board’s Annual Convention. The hotel room was full and all were listening as the West Limerick Board Chairman Pat O’Donnell gave one the finest speeches I have heard during my time covering Gaelic games in Limerick.

Over the past couple of years I and others who attend County Board meetings would have heard Pat O’Donnell speak. He speaks without fear and is always to the point but it was not until this meeting that we saw the depth of his abilities in carving a very fine speech.

The opening part of his address saw him thank the clubs in the division and also his fellow officers and referees whom, he said, play a vital part week after week and also the people looking after fields. O’Donnell spoke about the current state of the country and said, “We are living through difficult times and people at all levels are now challenged – it’s in times like this that sporting organisations like the GAA lead the way. In another era it was the founding of the GAA that planted the seed that saw communities all over Ireland develop their identities.

“We are seeing so many of our young players leaving the country in search of work and I hope they will find, like others before them, that our games will play a part in helping them find work in another country”.

It was a wide-ranging address and the Feohanagh club man also spoke about how clubs had lost many people during the Celtic Tiger years. “As an association we have lost many members and supporters during the Celtic Tiger years and we must now encourage those people back into our great association. Our clubs are always looking for new people and I think the time is now right for every club to build a campaign of recruiting new members and I would like to see such a measure spearheaded by the GAA at national level.”

O’Donnell also had some strong words for Croke Park and how the gap between the top and bottom is growing ever larger. “We see a lot of correspondence from Croke Park and while I accept that a certain amount is necessary I feel strongly that, more and more, the grassroots are losing their voice. We must never forget that the association was built from the ground up and if we lose sight of this than I have a great fear for the future.”

At recent County Board meetings we have heard the word ‘directive’ used and this was also dealt with by Pat O’Donnell. “The word ‘directive’ is used a lot and I would be concerned with the direction the GAA is heading. If the association has a problem in one part of the country it’s their duty to go in and find the problem, fix it and move on. However, what we have seen lately is that the overall association is used to fix what, in many cases, is a small problem in one unit of the association.

“Clubs have the right to expect honest answers from elected officials instead of the ‘round the houses’ they often get. As officials we are elected to do a job and to act in the best interest of the GAA, not ourselves. We must never lose sight of this. The grassroots played a huge part in building a firm foundation for the GAA and I would urge the power base in Croke Park to reflect strongly before they take any more powers away from the base. The gap between the top and the bottom of the GAA is growing wider and wider and is not right. I would urge Croke Park to reflect on where it’s going.”

He also spoke about the association locally and said it should not be afraid to look at itself to see how things can be done better, “We must challenge how we do our business and learn better ways of doing it. Some clubs are doing well while others find it hard to set achievable goals. Some clubs are finding it hard to put teams out but the day a parish loses its club is the day that it loses its identity.”

As far as the local championship in the West was concerned O’Donnell was very impressed with the honesty of the players and the clubs. “It was parish against parish – good honest hurling and football. In total ten county championships came to the West and St Kieran’s are now in the Munster Final and I wish them well. The standout moment for me this year was the County senior football final between two West teams, Drom-Broadford and Newcastlewest. This was drama at its very best and both of these clubs deserve huge credit. Drom-Broadford showing craft, experience and never say die spirit have left a legacy for others to follow.”

O’Donnell also paid tribute to the officers at County Board level who are leaving office this year and praised them for serving the Board to the best of their abilities but he also had a message for the future.“Finding people to take on the challenge is and will be an even greater problem in the future and I feel, as an association, we need to identify people much earlier for future roles in the GAA. Younger people will come with ideas but we must somehow lift the barrier to these people becoming future leaders.”

In his speech O’Donnell touched on many topics including the current state of the economy. “Our sponsors have given us unconditional loyalty in supporting our games despite what are now very difficult times. We must, in turn, support these people who give our association money with no strings attached. We can see what is happening to our small rural places now – the shops, post offices, petrol stations and bars are closing. The big chains get bigger but the local business person supports our games.”

The parting final words issued by O’Donnell had a message for all elected officers. “I would like to stress that, regardless of what level we serve the Gaelic Athletic Association at, be it club, divisional, county or national level, no one person is bigger than the association. No one person must be allowed put his hands around the association to build a power base for himself. Our duty is to serve not control”. Pat O’ Donnell laid the foundation stone for higher office with this speech.

It was a powerful well-delivered speech and one that many in the hall praised the West Board Chairman for.

Before convention started Fr William O’Gorman said mass and this great GAA man was rich in his praise for the work the GAA is doing at parish level.

Scaling the peak with the Limerick footballers

It was a great pleasure to climb Ireland’s highest mountain last week with the Limerick footballers in what was a great occasion.

The majority of the senior team were present and only a few missed out due to work and playing commitments. Others not associated with the team did the climb and credit to all concerned as it was very well organised. Such an effort will stand to them come championship time.

Limerick refs going places

Limerick’s referees are very much on top at the moment. Shane Hourigan refereed the Munster Club hurling final last Sunday and I hear Mike Meade will take charge of the Munster Club football final in the coming weeks.

This is a great honour for both of these men.