Sparks fly at county board convention

I got word earlier in the week that the wagons were circling ahead of Mayo’s GAA County Board convention on Tuesday night last at the McWilliam Park Hotel in Claremorris. It appears that Noelle Horan, the outgoing PRO, had a major difference of opinion with a number of county board officers regarding restrictions on her access to the county team’s dressing-room earlier this year. “Access all areas” apparently wasn’t a problem under the previous management and it would seem there wasn’t too much of a problem regarding her access to the dressing room earlier this year under the current management. Obviously something went awry at some juncture that sullied what appeared up to then to be the perfect harmonious relationship. There had been a number of verbal clashes at earlier meetings and it was generally felt that things might get a little ugly at the convention on Tuesday night. There was no pairing system in place for this meeting with all county board officers expected to attend to display a collective unity against the maverick! My informant tells me that Ms Horan distributed a pre-prepared script which she later read from. She had a right swipe at the county board executive, outlining instances when she was “constructively prevented” from performing her duties and other occasions when she was “repeatedly undermined” by members of the board. Her own club member, Mr Sean Feeney, the county secretary, came in for scathing criticism from her, suggesting that he had no right to criticise players for doing certain media work. The suggestion was that Mr Feeney wasn’t shy of using the airways himself when it suited him. It is difficult to comprehend what caused such a breakdown in “the family”, but I would offer that it will be quite some time, if ever, before we see Ms Horan seek a nomination to become an officer of the Mayo County Board.

Marty in London

I was speaking with my friend Michael McGeehin in Dublin last weekend. Michael is the director of coaching Ireland and was in Croke Park presenting a GAA coaching conference. He mentioned that he had just spoken with Marty McGrath (Blonde/Ballina ) earlier that evening. I had lost touch with Marty over the last few months, but was aware that he had gone to London to work. He was recently appointed games development officer with London GAA and I believe he is doing brilliant work over there. It doesn’t surprise me as Marty has such great enthusiasm and a boundless energy for coaching. It is a shame in a way that we have lost a good coach to London as Marty was doing brilliant work in the north Mayo area with several national schools chasing his expertise almost daily. He loved that job and I know all of the children that he coached loved to see Marty calling to the school gate with his drill bags. He often mentioned that the renumeration for this type of work was poor and I can only surmise that it was one of the reasons for Marty heading across the water. I have since discovered that there is a huge disparity around the country with little or no standardisation when it comes to payment of salaries/expenses to these GAA coaching officers. I know of several examples where some of these officers were receiving as little as €23,000pa and operating without a contract. In other words they were never guaranteed job security. Bank managers never do business with people in such loose arrangements if they happen to be looking for a mortgage. If we are to take coaching seriously in the GAA we must make it attractive by offering job security and a generous salary commensurate to that paid to coaches in other codes. Otherwise our young budding footballers will not get an opportunity to play our national games at the most important times of their lives.

School coaching

We are at a crossroads for the first time in my lifetime when it comes to sport being played in our national and secondary schools. The decision by the government in recent months not to allow schools to bring in substitute teachers for teachers away with school teams is a disastrous decision. The children are the ones who will lose out because of this decision. Any of us who played football at school level will remember those special and unique occasions for the rest of their lives. It is now time that we saw some of the money generated by the opening up of Croke Park to other codes permeate its way down to every county in the country to pay for quality GAA coaches in our schools.

Incidentally the theme of the aforementioned conference was “Games Based Training and Development”. There were a number of theory and practical sessions over the weekend with a host of national and international speakers delivering keynote speeches on international best practice. Mayo was well represented up there with Dennis O’Boyle, Martin Connolly, Billy McNicholas and James Horan all looking to gain that edge in coaching. Ballintubber are obviously going to make a big push for senior glory again next year.

They, like a few others, will look back on their season and lament the fact that they had a great chance of winning a senior title. They will be hugely encouraged, however, by the achievement of their under 21 team on Sunday last when they overcame a Pat Holmes-coached Westport. I went along to see the game and was a little disappointed with the match itself. It was just one of those days when it never really sparked to life. There was a spattering of good talented footballers on both sides but from the first minute you could see that the Ballintubber boys were that little bit keener. The “coveys” never really got out of first gear and would have been particularly disappointed with their poor display. The winners, on the other hand, never too worried about the quality of football in a final, were just thrilled with the victory. I was very impressed with Jason Gibbons in this year’s senior championship. He was particularly good in the drawn quarter-final against Ballaghaderreen. I thought on that occasion that he had a lot of the credentials to step up to the next level. He certainly embellished his reputation as an excellent footballer for the future with a mighty display at midfield on Sunday last. I was surprised when informed, as he deservedly received his man of the match trophy, that he has two more years at this level. Definitely one to look out for.

Secretaries venting

This is a great time of the year nationwide for county board secretaries. They more or less have the full spotlight of the national media on them as they avail of the opportunity to give vent to certain frustrations they may be having with their annual reports to convention. Already we have seen one or two get into hot water. Antrim’s outgoing secretary Jim Murray had a side swipe at Dessie Farrell, the chief executive of the GPA. Farrell interpreted his comments to be of a personal nature and suggested that he was considering taking legal action against the secretary. In fairness to Murray he later clarified that his comments were not directed at Farrell and this would appear to have defused the situation.

John Costello, the Dublin secretary, had lots to say about our flagship TV programme The Sunday Game. He accused the panellists of having a bias against the Dubs and referred to the Collie Moran incident earlier in the summer when he suggested the remarks of the panellists on the Sunday evening show had an influence on Moran receiving a four-week suspension. The Donegal secretary criticised the treatment dished out to Brian McIver, the then Donegal manager, describing the manner in which he was treated as a “disgrace” during a county board meeting a number of months ago. Isn’t a little ironic that we never hear any secretaries from successful counties giving out about anything?

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