Pat Teehan Leinster Chairperson address to Leinster Convention 17th Jan 2022
When reflecting on the past year, an initial reaction might be to say that it was a disaster. I think the word difficult would be more appropriate. We were restricted and compromised in many areas of our work – most notably with the lack of in-person meetings, reduced attendances at games, curtailment of infrastructure development and the delay to our extension of the GPO model to six remaining counties.
However, we are a games based organisation, and in that context, it has to be said that 2021 was a successful year. Not only did we get to complete our full programme of fixtures but we also got to complete the outstanding Championships from 2020. Full credit is due to all involved in ensuring our games programme was not curtailed in any way – despite the ongoing and ever changing difficulties.
In his own report, Michael Reynolds has highlighted the outcomes of the various competitions so I don’t intend to repeat that now, other than to congratulate all the winners of our various Championships.
However, I think from a Leinster viewpoint it was highly significant and worth mentioning the achievement of both Meath and Offaly in winning the Minor and U20 All-Ireland football titles. And while they may not have won any silverware, I do wish to commend the performances of Kildare underage hurlers who made giant strides at both Minor and U20 level in 2021.
Much of the last number of months has been taken up with a debate about the future of the Senior Football Championship and while change is not only inevitable it is also necessary. But we must be realistic and not expect that motions coming before Congress will have all the answers. I believe we will see change at the upcoming Congress, but I also believe that whatever proposal is accepted we can expect further changes in the coming years. For that reason I believe that we need to amend the Official Guide to allow Central Council have more flexibility when it comes to making necessary changes, – changes that don’t alter the substantive nature of a particular Rule. I would hope that Congress in 2023 will see the passing of a suitable motion that will allow for more flexibility in adjusting our Championships as required into the future
Provision of Games
As already mentioned we are a games based organisation and the provision of games, especially for our club players, must be our Number One priority. An analysis of recent developments and initiatives by Comhairle Laighean throws up some very interesting findings. Before the implementation of the Leinster cross county leagues in 2016, only three counties, in the Province, provided playing activity for their underage players before St Patrick’s Day. The introduction of U13 & U15 cross county leagues has resulted in over 800 additional games being staged annually across the Province.
This has also resulted in a demand within counties for additional games. The result is that whereas in 2016 an underage player might expect to get 8 games in his grade, across league and Championship, pre knockout, that has now jumped to an average of 11 games per grade with this activity spanning late February / early March and concluding in late October/ early November. We must also remember the majority of players don’t make school or representative teams, so a good club games programme is vital so that every young player gets sufficient activity to maintain their interest and enjoyment of our games.
Go Games in the u7-u11 age group has also grown with most clubs now enjoying 7-10 game days in the majority of counties compared to only 5-7 game days in 2016
With the split season, there is now an even greater opportunity for counties to tailor their fixtures to ensure an even better games programme for both adult and underage players.
Another fundamental element of our Association’s activities is to ensure that every child is introduced to our games and gets an opportunity to experience and play them. This is not an easy goal to achieve, however, I do believe that, in this Province the curve is constantly moving in an upward trajectory. Since 2015 we have increased our games staff, outside of Dublin, from 44 to 99, and this number will continue to grow as we recruit staff for Carlow, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford and Kilkenny, – counties that were not part of previous projects. By increasing the number of Games Promotion Officers in our counties we release our Games Development Administrators to spend more time in clubs which don’t have a requirement for a full-time GPO.
In this regard I wish to commend the excellent work being done by all of our Games Development staff across the Province, under the expert guidance of our Games Managers, Alan Mulhall and James Devane.
It is important to point out that the appointment of GPO’s to clubs follows a very considered process. In each case, our Games Managers, Alan and James carry out a rigorous audit of the club, or group of clubs, to determine their requirements and consider what solution would be the best fit in their case. In some instances this may be a GPO, but in many cases a GPO is not the answer and so other supports are tailored to best address the specific needs of the club or clubs. I would also point out that analysis of the GPO model across the Province has shown that in the appropriate clubs, participation rates have increased and contrary to what might be believed, the number of volunteers willing to assist has also increased.
The comments of the Chairperson of Eire Óg Greystones at his clubs AGM in 2021 could be echoed across the Province, when he stated that “One of the better appointments of this or any other year has been the appointment of a GPO. The club along with Leinster GAA through James Devane, have facilitated the appointment and I have nothing but the highest regard for the work he has put in, from providing training for the national and secondary schools in the locality, assisting with the nursery, coaching our young referees – an area we have been lacking in over the years, running coaching courses along with the county GDA and what I consider to be the single biggest initiative for the Club – enrolment in the Dermot Early Youth Leadership Initiative award. This provides Transition Year students with the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, attain a third level award while still in TY and will go a long way to those involved securing their Gaisce award. I have no hesitation in saying I will be proposing to the incoming committee that we should be planning now for the addition of a second GPO as a priority.”
He also states that membership has increased by almost 50% in just 12 months and the club has a record number of volunteer coaches.
The whole area of Games Development and Promotion in the Association has been a huge success. To maintain this success and effectiveness it is important to constantly review the elements that make it work so that they can evolve and become even better.
Changes are coming in relation to the whole area of Games Development and funding mechanisms, and Leinster GAA will continue to work constructively with the National Games Development Committee to facilitate these changes and enhance and improve games development right across the Province.
Drugs in Society
One area of concern that has been raised with me in recent months has been the use of drugs among young people in our society. Unfortunately in recent years the use of so called recreational drugs, and in particular cocaine, has become prevalent across all areas of society, from the smallest rural village to the largest urban area. While it would be over-dramatic to say it is an epidemic, it is nonetheless a very concerning situation and GAA players and members are certainly not immune from this culture.
As the largest voluntary sporting organisation in the country and embedded in every community, all GAA units should play our part in creating awareness among our young people to the dangers of becoming involved in this habit. We can become part of the solution, to this problem, by engaging with the professionals in Government agencies and other community organisations to support and highlight the dangers of drug use, not just from a physical health viewpoint, but also the long term mental affects and the devastating affect drug use can have on an individual’s family. We also need to emphasise the fact that money spent on drugs only goes to line the pockets of criminals who have no regard for the lives or welfare of anyone, other than themselves.
I would urge all GAA clubs to adopt the GAA Club Substance Use Policy which can be downloaded from GAA.ie website. A social media campaign accompanied by a poster in every dressing room in the country would certainly be a start in raising awareness and helping to combat the future spread of the use of drugs among our members.
Again during the past year we lost family members, friends and colleagues and we were unable to mourn in our traditional manner. To the families and communities of all our departed loved ones I extend my deepest sympathy. I would like to especially remember two former Council members; Joe O’Shaughnessy from Wexford and Jimmy Hogan of Offaly. Both men not only served Leinster well, but also their respective clubs of Castletown and Birr as well as their counties over many years.
The death of a child in any circumstances is something we find very difficult to comprehend, but the death of 13 year old Harry Byrne from Gowran last November following a freak accidental blow from a sliotar left us all numbed. As is always the case in the face of such tragedy the GAA community rallied around to support Harry’s family and show our solidarity with them. I hope this was in some small way a help to his parents, Fergal and Annette, his brothers Sam and Jake, sister Aimee, extended family, friends, and all at St Kieran’s College and Young Ireland GAA club, to whom we again extend our deepest sympathy. May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Thankfully 2021 saw a return to Scór competitions at adult level and I wish to thank our Culture and Community Committee under Chairperson Catherine Daly for the tremendous work they did in ensuring the Leinster Finals took place. In particular I wish to thank Wolfe Tones GAA club in Meath not just for the use of their premises, but for the wonderful manner in which they hosted the event in difficult circumstances. The work of our committee paid off when Leinster brought home 5 All-Ireland titles from the finals held in The Connacht Centre of excellence. Well done to all involved.
Given all the restrictions in place, 2021 was another difficult year for referees. However, once again our match officials demonstrated great resilience and fortitude in ensuring that our games took place and great credit is due to them and their own teams of officials, without whom our Association would be in serious difficulty. We must continue to show them the respect they deserve.
I wish to thank our Referees Administration Committee and our Referees’ Appointments Committee for the marvellous job they did in preparing the referees and ensuring that all of our games were adequately resourced. You will all have read Martin Whyte’s extensive report on refereeing in the Leinster Convention report and I think it is sufficient to say that we all need to play our part in striving to recruit more referees for the playing of our games.
Like 2020 Handball, Games for All and Infrastructure were the areas that suffered more than any. But I know the resilience and commitment of the people involved will ensure that they bounce back stronger than ever when normality is restored.
In relation to Infrastructure, it has been a frustrating time for Kildare, Meath and Louth as they try to make progress on much needed development and re-development of county grounds. I would hope that 2022 will allow them an opportunity to move their respective projects forward. These are certainly three developments that are important not just of the counties themselves, but the GAA as a whole and must be supported. We in Leinster will work with the National Finance and Infrastructure Committees to advance these projects. While these are three major projects that are in the pipeline, we must not forget other areas which have infrastructure deficits at the moment, Longford and Westmeath are without training centres, Carlow need dressing rooms in Fenagh, while Wexford and Westmeath have upgrades planned for Wexford Pk and Cusack Pk, respectively. All these projects need the support not just of Leinster, but also at National level and the support of Government funding.
Thankfully the schools programme at Second level got back on track and I’m delighted that games are continuing to be played and are more or less on track at this time. We also hope to see a full return to activity at primary level as the year progresses. This is a great credit to all involved and again demonstrates the commitment so many teachers have to the promotion of our games. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the staff of Aras Laighean, under the guidance of our CEO Michael Reynolds, and all of our staff across the province for the wonderful effort and sacrifices you made in keeping the show on the road in 2021. While things improved from the low of 2020, it was still not an easy time for any of us, but you all demonstrated your commitment to your job and ensured that Leinster GAA did not succumb to the virus.
While we are all too aware of the effects of Covid on our communities here in Ireland over the last two years, we also recognise the difficulties the situation has caused for our overseas units. Again activity was severely curtailed but I was delighted to see Amsterdam fulfil their Leinster Junior Club fixture recently against St Mark’s from Dublin, while the Middle East are currently in the middle of an active playing season and Australasia also got back to playing games in 2021. And I again want to welcome representatives of our three overseas twinning partners who join us here at the Convention remotely.
This pandemic has been the greatest social disruptor of all time. It has underlined the importance of connectivity and given us all a new appreciation of the importance of social interaction – of community. The crucial role of our overseas units in this regard cannot be overstated. In my address last year I noted that as a member of the GAA you are part of something very special. Again this year that special togetherness, the shared respect, that spirit of collegiality has been hugely important – both in our overseas units and at home.
Hopefully 2022 will bring a new horizon, and that we will get back to concentrating fully on what we do best, playing our games and promoting activity among our young people. In the meantime we will continue to work together, to look out for each other and to ensure that we take all the steps that may be required to consign the curse of Covid to the history books.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir agus ar aghaidh libh le chéile.