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'We felt we had been bullied into a course of action that we might well have taken anyway'

GAA Director-General Tom Ryan today addressed last summer’s controversy over the Liam Miller Tribute match.

A huge crowd attended the Liam Miller tribute game in September.
A huge crowd attended the Liam Miller tribute game in September.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

GAA DIRECTOR-GENERAL Tom Ryan has revealed he is ‘still very uncomfortable’ with the process which saw the association finding a way around their own rules last summer to stage the Liam Miller Tribute match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Controversy erupted last July when it was initially ruled that a charity game between a Celtic-Ireland Legends team and a Manchester United Legends side could not be played at the Cork GAA headquarters.

The decision was subsequently altered with an announcement made on Saturday 28 July that the game would be held in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and it took place in late September with a huge crowd present.

In reference to another major stadium row last summer – the staging of the qualifier between Kildare and Mayo at St Conleth’s Park – Ryan described the Newbridge furore as ‘a GAA plan which was within our gift to fix and always felt capable of resolution’ but believes the Páirc Uí Chaoimh controversy was ‘quite different’.

Writing in his annual report which was launched this morning, he was keen to first point out the charitable nature of the event and the importance that the Miller family benefitted from the event.

 

Later at today’s press launch, Ryan spoke about his pleasure at how successful the game was and that it did take place.

“I should preface my remarks with a reminder that the purpose of the game was charitable; all involved were doing things for the best of reasons and the main thing is that the Miller family benefitted from the event Everything else is secondary and any reservations I have about the episode should be seen in that light.”

Ryan outlined how he had an issue with ‘the blatant disregard’ shown to the governance of the GAA. 

“My problem with how events unfolded concerns not the playing of any particular match (or sport) in any GAA venue, but the blatant disregard that shown for the Association’s governance.

“Much of the clamour that arose amounted to demands for us to just ignore our own standards and indeed our decision markers. To ignore the rule or find a loophole and host the game.

“As a governing body charged with trying to uphold standards we should not be in the business of finding ways around our own rules. I personally should certainly not be. Nonetheless as the days progressed it became evident that to not ‘find a way’ would only do the Association more reputational damage, however unjustified. So that is what we did – we found a way around our own rules. That is something I am still very uncomfortable with.

TRyanJHoran GAA President John Horan and Director-General Tom Ryan at today's launch of the report.

“The mechanics involved identifying a legal route, establishing independently is validity, and convening at two days notice our voluntary Central Council from all around the country and overseas to a difficult meeting. I don’t think any of us were enthusiastic about the outcome we reached.

“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.”

Ryan argued that pressure on pitches is a problem facing the GAA and believes they ‘were badly served’ by comments made at the time.

“Yes, the GAA has a rule restricting use of our pitches for other sports but that is a necessity borne not out of prejudice but practicality. The single biggest resource constraint we face all over the country is pitches. We don’t have enough capacity to cater for our own needs, (including camogie and ladies football) let alone other sports.”

“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 quite 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 ever more influential people expressing ever more unhelpful and unsolicited views.

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

“And nor should they be.”

Ryan explained that the process undertaken involved conceding there was an ambiguity in the property rules and they intend to put forward a motion to ask GAA Congress to address ‘that perceived ambiguity’.

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Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.

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Fintan O'Toole

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