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31st Jan 2019

After the year the GAA has had, complaint about Liam Miller match is another level

Conan Doherty

It’s bad enough just thinking these things but deciding that it would be okay to say them aloud is bare-faced affront.

Read the room.

GAA Director General, Tom Ryan, published his annual report on Wednesday and, in doing so, undid the great work of the association in facilitating a national event that was each a day of mourning, a tribute, and a fitting remembrance of a fine servant of Irish sport and a young man who grew up from GAA roots.

The initial decision of the GAA to keep Páirc Uí Chaoimh off limits for the Liam Miller Memorial Match was met with widespread disapproval, almost more so in the actual GAA community itself. It became apparent very fast that Turner’s Cross was never going to be able to meet the demand for the game which was nothing to do with the game but, rather, a way of paying respects to a great person taken far too soon. Admirably, the GAA went back on their ruling and not only opened the gates of the newest stadium in Cork but helped organise a fantastic occasion that also celebrated the Games.

But instead of being able to take credit for swallowing pride, relaxing rules and doing a good job, it seems that the feeling of doing the right thing was far from the overwhelming sense washing over Croke Park.

And, in his report, Tom Ryan detailed how, in actual fact, none of them were enthusiastic about what they had done.

“That is something I am still very uncomfortable with,” he said about the decision to allow a foreign game to be played in a GAA venue.

  • 10 years after hosting 13 Republic of Ireland games at Croke Park.
  • Nine years after hosting 15 Irish Rugby games at Croke Park.
  • Four years after hosting an American Football game between Penn State and UCF Knights at Croke Park.

The Liam Miller cause wasn’t as worthy, apparently, because the report goes on to suggest that the GAA had to be ‘bullied’ into doing something.

“I don’t think any of us were enthusiastic about the outcome we reached,” Ryan wrote.

“The overwhelming sentiment being that we felt we had been bullied into a course of action that we might well have taken anyway if given the chance.

“In hindsight we might have handled matters differently but I do believe that the GAA was very badly served by much of the comment at the time. It consumed so much time and energy and yet was not an issue of our making.

“Frustratingly, I still don’t know how things got to where they did. I know that the Liam Miller Organising Committee were certainly not making things difficult for us. Quite the opposite in fact.

“Events just seemed to take on a momentum of their own, with even more influential people expressing ever more unhelpful and unsolicited views.

“There was an inference at the time that the GAA should be under moral, if not legal, compulsion to allow to use of our pitches for other sports because the Association, or the specific pitch, had received public funding.

“This is not factually correct and is not morally defensible. Any funding we receive is, and should continue to be, predicated solely on the intrinsic value of Gaelic Games. I am not aware of any other sporting organisation being assessed on the degree to it promotes rival sports.”

It is not morally defensible, the Director General of the GAA says.

Morally, would it not have been bad to refuse a bigger crowd and a bigger fundraising opportunity for a game that no-one cared if you relaxed your own rules for? Especially considering they’re relaxed when suited on other occasions?

After the year the GAA has had, the report is another hair-pulling moment. The idea of the association pitting moral integrity against the commentary of their controversial decisions is audacious, to say the least.

This, coming a week after ticket price hikes.

This, not even a full year after three different motions to review the pay-per-view television deals didn’t even make it to the floor at Congress.

At the same event, a motion by the CPA for voter transparency is rejected emphatically and labelled an insult.

Kieran Molloy has to drive from an All-Ireland club semi-final in Offaly to a Sigerson Cup final in Dublin and he misses the first half of his college’s biggest game. He’s not the only one being screwed over by fixtures as O’Byrne and McKenna Cups are being played in May, the April for Clubs idea becomes a laughing stock and, all the while, the CPA’s desire to fix the fixtures isn’t given any tangible credence at all.

Unfortunately, the GAA didn’t feel as uncomfortable in finding ‘a way around our own rules’ when it came to Kildare’s home game against Mayo when they decided that Newbridge wasn’t fit to hold the game, and then Newbridge held the game perfectly. After a bit of bullying.

If the GAA think that they were bullied into hosting the Liam Miller Memorial Match, that’s not a bad reflection on society. It’s just an awful, awful image of the GAA themselves who have to be pushed into doing what was right.

In a year of chaos, injustice, ticket price increases, and financial irregularities – in Páirc Uí Chaoimh no less – it really is quite something that Tom Ryan not only feels victimised after the Liam Miller situation, but that he’s perfectly comfortable airing those views.

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Liam Miller