The mood for change continues – or does it? GAA Congresses often stand accused of being conservative, unwieldy and overly-democratic and while sometimes it’s an accurate depiction, there are break-out years when big calls are made.
ome wind their way slowly through the pipeline while others arrive quite quickly, as is the case with today’s proposal on restructuring the football championship.
Here are 10 of the higher-profile Congress decisions since 1970.
2017: ‘Super 8s’ and ‘round robin’ home to roost
The pace of change! It’s only four years since the GAA voted to introduce a League format in the football championship quarter-finals (Super 8s) and in the Munster and Leinster hurling championships. Despite being opposed by the GPA, the ‘Super 8’ proposal won a 74 per cent majority for a three-year trial. That was at annual Congress in February and seven months later the ‘round robin’ format for Leinster and Munster hurling won a 62 per cent majority at Special Congress.
2010: Players’ pleas end with GPA recognition
Peace in our time after a decade of war between the GPA as Congress voted to recognise the players’ group as the official representative body for intercounty panels. It was an important breakthrough for the players, marking the beginning of a process which has given them considerable influence in the decision-making processes.
2005: Croke Park change nets €36m for GAA
It should have happened in 2001 when a similar motion failed by a single vote but four years later there was much more enthusiasm for the proposal to make Croke Park available for major rugby and soccer games. The debate had been long and fractious, but by 2005 those who favoured opening up were in a solid majority throughout the GAA membership.
It was reflected in the Congress vote, which carried the proposal on a 227-97 count. The GAA earned €36 million in rent income from the IRFU and FAI between 2007 and 2010.
2001: Controversial Rule 21 a barrier to progress
Rule 21, which precluded members of the RUC and British security forces from joining the GAA, had attracted criticism for years. In place since 1903, it came under increasing scrutiny from the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until later in the decade that intense pressure really came on.
It was driven by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the realisation that the rule was a hindrance to progress.
For obvious reasons, Ulster counties needed most persuading, but it all came together under the Presidency of Sean McCague and the controversial rule was zapped by Special Congress in November 2001.
2000: Back door opens on new era for football
A large majority backed the end of the provincial championships as the sole method of advancing in the race for Sam Maguire. All-Ireland qualifiers for all teams beaten in the provinces were introduced.
Galway were among the loudest objectors but, ironically, won the 2001 All-Ireland title via the ‘back door’ after losing to Roscommon in the Connacht semi-final.
Meath also spoke against the qualifiers but opposition voices were drowned out in a tide of support for change.
1996: Hurling losers’ pardon begins domino effect
Given all the changes that have occurred over the last 25 years, allowing the beaten Leinster and Munster hurling finalists to continue in the All-Ireland championship may look relatively insignificant, but the 1996 decision at Congress in London was, in fact, the first break with the long-standing ‘one strike and you’re out’ championship formats. It was carried on a three-to-one majority and applied from 1997.
1991: Games get shirty over sponsorship overhaul
Needing a two-thirds majority to allow sponsors’ logos to be displayed on playing gear, Dublin’s motion succeeded by just three votes. It was a significant policy change as it opened up a whole new world of sponsorship, which later extended right across all areas of the GAA.
Cork led the opposition arguing that there would be ‘cheap and commercial emblazoning on jerseys.’ Galway also voiced strong opposition while Dublin, Meath, Wexford and Roscommon led the call for change.
1972: Open draw effort is slammed shut
Today’s session probably wouldn’t be necessary if a motion calling for the introduction of an open draw championships in hurling and football had been passed 49 year ago.
Recommended by the McNamee Commission a year earlier, it had no chance in hurling where Munster and Leinster powerhouses wouldn’t even consider it.
Tipperary’s Donie Nealon made the proposal for football but it too got limited support. Dr. Jim Brosnan (Kerry) described calls for an open draw as ‘only newspaper talk.’
1971: Ban’s intolerance is finally shattered
‘The Ban’ – two words that will always be synonymous with the less tolerant side of the GAA. Members playing soccer, rugby, cricket, hockey – or even attending games – faced suspension, a fate that befell quite a few in the 66 years it applied.
Rule 27 was one of the most restrictive regulations in the history of sport, drawing much negative attention to the GAA. Despite that, it survived until 1971 when Congress eventually deleted it by an overwhelming majority.
1970: Club championships face much opposition
Given the importance of the All-Ireland club championships in the modern GAA calendar, it’s difficult to comprehend why there was so much opposition to their introduction.
Dunmore’s Bertie Coleman, a long-time and hard-working advocate for the idea, launched the case through a Galway motion at Congress 1970, but met with stern resistance.
Cork led the anti-campaign, arguing that it would be difficult to find room in the schedule. Others agreed, but after a protracted debate the proposal was carried 92-74, paving the way for the introduction of senior championships in 1971.