Amid several public incidences of criticism, the GAA managed to pull off some very entertaining top-class campaigns in the senior men’s and women’s championships. The fans flocked in their masses to Croke Park for the finals, and boy, did those games live up to the hype. Dublin made history by claiming their first ever 4-in-a-row title run, Limerick banished the ghosts of the past to end their 45-year Liam MacCarthy cup drought, and the Cork camogie team retained their title in a controversial affair with Kilkenny. However, in amongst these successes, the Gaelic Athletic Association had to face strong backlash both from the public and, in one particular case, an entire county team, meaning a big question remains: is GAA still the premier game in Ireland, or have recent disputes knocked it from the peoples’ hearts?
To examine the inadequacies of the association in recent months, one would have to kick off with the Liam Miller tribute match debacle. Back in July, it was announced that teams of Manchester United and Celtic/Ireland legends would take part in a charity match to fundraise for the family of Liam Miller, a former player with all three teams, who tragically passed away of cancer in February. The game was due to be played at Cork City’s home ground, Turner’s Cross, which has a maximum capacity of about 7,000. The tickets for the match went on sale and sold out within minutes. This left many a fan feeling aggrieved as the match had instantly garnered a lot of attention due to the high-profile players taking part and the overall anticipation of such an event, the willingness to show respect for the family, and the opportunity to honour one of Cork’s most famous sons. Almost immediately, there were public cries to move the match to the newly reconstructed Pairc Uí Chaoimh to facilitate the demand. Given that this occasion was meant to be one dedicated to the memory of Miller and to raise funds for his family, surely the event should easily be approved for the 45,000-capacity stadium instead? The country was in uproar when the request was denied, and the Cork County Council stood firm with its stance to follow GAA rules. Within days, the petitions came flying, pundits and players from all sides were throwing in their two cents, and the media storm took aim at the GAA. The position of the Cork County Board with regard to GAA Rule 42, which bans the use of stadiums for other codes (with the exception of Croke Park), just seemed like an embarrassment. That our country’s biggest sporting organisation was not readily willing to participate in this event, and be a part of what is sure to be a wonderful occasion, seemed laughable. Hope for an agreement was rekindled when it was announced by the match organisers that a meeting was scheduled to take place with the GAA in an attempt to push the approval through. This was where the fundamental failure of the GAA took place. Negotiations went on for days and the frustration grew with supporters not understanding why the deal was taking so long. Tómás Ó Sé pointed this out brilliantly on the Sunday Game back in July saying: “I think the GAA, the way that they hold out and don’t react for a few days doesn’t help them at all. It’s a no brainer. The GAA leave stuff to fester and the anger towards them builds”. Joe Brolly also voiced his thoughts on the same show, claiming that another GAA rule would allow for just such an event to be held in a GAA stadium and that the GAA should uphold its moral duty to its community. The whole saga came to its expected end with the match being approved for Pairc Uí Chaoimh, but the reputation of the GAA, and its principles regarding other sports and how they operate with regard to organisations outside their own, was called into question.
The GAA also ran itself into another national controversy when it refused to allow the Kildare senior football team play out their All-Ireland Round 3 qualifier against Mayo at home in Newbridge. The GAA stated that the issue was due to health and safety problems arising from issues with the capacity. Kildare were quickly in with their complaints and condemned the GAA for its decision, as Kildare had rightfully won the opportunity to host a home fixture. The Lilywhites engaged in a stand-off with the GAA, and it wasn’t long before the GAA hit back, as its director of games administration, Fergal McGill, released a statement noting: “We fully appreciate where Kildare are coming from. We don’t take home venue off of a team lightly. However, health and safety has to come first. It’s that simple. The last thing we wanted to do was take this out of Newbridge, but we simply had no choice. There is no room for manoeuvre, not when it comes to health and safety. If Kildare don’t show up in Croke Park on Saturday at 7pm the game will be awarded to Mayo.”. However it soon became clear that the entire community around the sport had sided with Kildare on the matter, leading to the GAA conceding defeat on this matter, and the game taking place at Newbridge, of which Kildare eventually emerged the victors.
In short, it hasn’t been the most successful PR summer for the GAA and their core principles have been called in question, by both the supporters and by the media and analysts within the game. Whilst their actions aren’t particularly easy to understand, one can see how their rulebook doesn’t facilitate the occurrence of extra-ordinary events. Furthermore, the methods that the GAA used to address the public with regards to the aforementioned issues were poor and the exchanges between the GAA, the public, and other entities were misinterpreted by some. The success of the All-Ireland campaigns and the quality of the hurling, camogie, and football played throughout the summer kept drawing mass crowds to Croke Park. The excitement stirred by the top-quality fixtures, and the passion the people of Ireland demonstrate for their team, overshadows the faults of the organisation. Regardless of the GAA’s behaviour as an organisation, it remains Ireland’s most exhilarating national treasure.