GAA Football

Voice of GAA volunteer must be heard above all others says Martin Skelly

Martin Skelly, national Féile chairman, receives the Féile flag from Ulster chairman Michael Hasson at Owenbeg in 2015. Skelly is committed to restoring the power of the GAA to grassroots volunteers
Andy Watters

THE voice of the volunteer must be heard above Croke Park’s full-time administrators, says GAA presidential hopeful Martin Skelly.

Longford native Skelly intends to restore the primacy of the GAA’s grassroots membership if he is elected to succeed Aogán Ó Fearghail as the 39th uachtarán Chumann Luthchleas Gael at next month’s annual congress.

Skelly, a lifelong member, former player, coach, long-term administrator and supporter of the GAA is currently chairman of the national féile and the Leinster Council.

He will face opposition from John Horan (Dublin), Robert Frost (Clare), Frank Burke (Galway) and Sean Walsh (Kerry) at February’s election for the position of the uachtarán naofa - the president-elect who will take over from Cavan’s Ó Fearghail at the end of his term of office in 2018.

Skelly is passionate on a wide range of issues - including the completion of Casement Park in Belfast - but describes the status of the volunteer as “very dear to my heart”.

“There a lot of people within the GAA who are now full-time,” he told The Irish News on Monday.

“We must make sure that the voice of the volunteer - whether that’s the players or the administrators in our clubs - is heard loud and clear at all times and we must never go down the road where the ideals of what we’re about are not coming from the volunteer section.

“Of course, there are people that have to be paid and they are good people but they are there as support to the voluntary ethos of our association.

“We must protect it all times and the voice of the volunteer and the voice of the amateur player must be heard above any other voice within the association.

Skelly says the voice of the volunteer should never be drowned out by the full-time officials in Croke Park and elsewhere

“We are a volunteer organisation and the status of the volunteer will be sacrosanct in my view of the association going forward. Any other way and I think we’re going down a slippery road.

“That’s where I would stand on it. The association wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for the volunteer ethos and that is very dear to my heart.

“You’re talking about listening to what people are saying in regard to our games because our games must be attractive to those who pay in to see them or even watch them on the various media outlets.”

Given his stance on not just protecting, but promoting the GAA’s volunteer base, Skelly’s attitude on the continuing pay-for-play debate comes as no surprise.

“Absolutely not,” he replied when asked if a semi-professional or professional inter-county game was something he would support.

“The GAA is very much a volunteer organisation and whether you’re playing or whether you’re in administration that’s the way it has to be because that, in itself, is its strength.

“The strength of the GAA is its amateurism and its volunteerism and we cannot threaten the structures that the Association was built upon because they are what makes it strong and vibrant.

“I don’t think pay-for-play is even an issue with most county players at this moment in time. Obviously, we have to look after our players and treat them well and make sure that they’re not out of pocket because of the sacrifices and commitment that they make. But pay-for-play will certainly not be on my agenda.”

Since confirming his candidacy, Skelly has met with county board officials from Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Derry and Donegal and intends to meet with representatives from all the other Ulster counties.

“I’ve been in touch with people from each county,” he said.

“Through my involvement with Féile, I have been involved with Antrim and I’ll be visiting the remaining counties between now and February.”

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