JOHN Keenan used his Chairman’s address at last night’s Derry Convention in Owenbeg to slam the GAA’s “armchair critics” and called on everyone within the County to help increase participation at all levels.
Michael Wilson reports
Mr. Keenan said the Oak Leaf county faced a number of challenges not unique to Derry but claimed the new executive can improve the socialisation of its activities in 2013. Praising volunteers within local clubs, the Derry Chairman said change was a vital and necessary commodity within the GAA and, handled correctly, change could make the county stronger
“I spoke this time last year of an apathy from our clubs,” explained Mr. Keenan, “However I’m delighted to say that the response to this year’s nominations from our clubs has been excellent. It is most refreshing and encouraging.
“To fulfil our potential we must change from time to time. I spoke earlier about the heart of the volunteer but there is something often twinned with heart. Soul. The soul of the association within our county is something that should never be taken for granted. Is the soul of Derry GAA as vibrant as it could be? No, it is not!
“The soul of our association is not indefinable. Think about what makes us unique. It is the coming together of people not motivated by financial or personal gain, coming together in respect and friendship. All of us need to examine from time to time why it is we are involved in the GAA. There is much happiness to be gained from our activities but we must shape our environment to help that soul flourish.
“I am resolved that the new county executive will examine methods to improve the socialisation of our activities in the immediate future. We want to hear people’s voices. When people enjoy what they do, they generally do it well. That’s what we need to aim for.”
Identifying some of the main challenges facing the county, Mr Keenan said everyone had a part to play in improving the fortunes of both club and county.
“There are many things which threaten the heart and soul of the GAA. Illegal payments to managers and coaches, a creeping sense of detachment from the national organisation manifesting itself locally as detachment from the county unit, respect for match officials and the emigration of our young people due to adverse economic conditions are all threats to our association in Derry.
“We have a culture too of the ‘armchair critic’. Too many are willing to criticise yet play no role. That is not acceptable. The people most often in the firing line are usually our players, the C.C.C. and match officials.
“In the round our leagues and championships ran relatively smoothly this year. I commend the C.C.C. Committee, led by Michael McCracken and administered by Seamus Mullan for their diligent work to achieve this. It is no secret that this can be a challenging and thankless task.
“I would appeal to clubs to get a more in-depth understanding as to how the C.C.C. and Hearings Committee operate within their own remits. We will continue to review, refine and, when necessary, bring forward change but we need everyone to play their part.”
Destructive and Barbaric
The Derry Chairman said he was disappointed to note there had been little improvement in the behaviour of players and club officials toward referees and reiterated his appeal from 12 months ago to clean up the game within the county.
“Last year at this forum I spoke about a lack of respect within our games. Unfortunately it has not improved. In fact it has possibly deteriorated slightly. We have to stamp out the abuse that is being hurled at our referees and officials. It is destructive and downright barbaric at times.
“We intend to modernise the recruitment and training of referees. We need to recruit more referees as their age profile is on the increase and this is leading to retirements. We need to collectively raise the profile of our referees and give them the respect and dignity that they deserve, as is the norm in other sporting codes.
“I would make a fresh appeal to all our clubs. Please co-operate with our referees co-ordinator and send forward the names of people that would take up the whistle for your club and help to officiate at our games for years to come.”
Optimistic about future
Admitting last season had been a disappointing one for the Derry senior and minor footballers, Mr Keenan highlighted the strides made by the senior hurlers under Ger Rogan and said there were many reasons for optimism with the appointment of Brian McIver to succeed John Brennan in the football hotseat.
“On the playing field we had a very disappointing year with our county football teams this year but we intend to put that right. We have appointed Anthony Begley as our full-time fitness officer in a drive to reduce injuries, increase the professionalism of preparation and leave more healthier, fitter players available for selection.
“We were delighted to appoint someone of the calibre of Brian McIver as our senior football manager. Brian has assembled a top class back room team with no stone being left unturned in the pursuit of developing our players. There are no quick fixes but I firmly believe we are in a new era.
“Combined with a new Under 21 management team of Paddy Crozier and Eugene Kelly, we will develop Derry’s talent through our Academy.”
The Derry Chairman was adamant of the need to increase the working relationship between clubs, the county and colleges to avoid player burn-out and help Derry reach its maximum potential.
“I would be of the strong opinion that we need a closer and more harmonious working relationship with our colleges in order to achieve our full potential at county minor level in both codes. Working in unison can only benefit club, county and the colleges.
“Our young players can find themselves serving many masters. Where there is a failure to place the long term development of a player first, there is a denial of one’s responsibility toward that player. Co-operation with a professional and modern approach to player development benefits all.
“This is not just a local issue but a national one. At a time when the conversation is around tweaking the age groups of minor and Under 21, are we having the wrong conversation? At minor level we still don’t have an equitable championship structure for our young players. Provincial councils have ‘back door’ systems. Others do not. That is wrong in our view.
“Players are our greatest asset and on behalf of all the gaels of this county I wish all our players and management teams the best of luck for the season ahead. Wear your county colours with pride because you represent a culture and a rich history over many generations,” he added.