Out-going GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghaíl defends controversial Sky deal
OUT-GOING GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghaíl says the extent of opposition to the Sky deal has been exaggerated by sections of the media and reminded critics that the association had come through a deep recession and is still flourishing.
The Cavan man will bow out as President at this weekend’s Congress in Dublin after serving three years and hands over the reins to the newly elected John Horan.
Before signing off as GAA President, Ó Fearghaíl highlighted the creation of more free weekends for club activity, the merits of the new Super 8s in the senior football Championship and the growing participation levels at youth level.
On GAA's decision to erect pay walls, Ó Fearghaíl said: “We had a motion at Congress two years ago and 15 per cent was against our media rights deal. That’s a fact. I don’t know why the media keep saying [there is opposition]. I’ve been to over 400 clubs and it doesn’t come up anywhere I go.
“We assist clubs and counties when they need it. You look at the financial support we gave Glasgow Gaels [£300k contribution to a new Hub facility in Clydebank].
“We’ve helped with remedial work at Hyde Park in Roscommon last year. We spent a million euro in doing up that pitch and Roscommon benefited and the GAA benefited. We need to have an income – and the income goes back out. When we see the accounts at Congress, what goes in, goes out. That’s a simple fact.
“We have to adapt to the Ireland we find ourselves in, not the Ireland of 20 years ago or 50 years ago, or the nostalgia about pint drinking and back-slapping and the craic. That’s lovely and it is good fun. Ireland has changed and we have to adapt and change with it.”
Ó Fearghaíl also paid tribute to out-going Ard Stiúrthóir Paraic Duffy who steps down from arguably the most powerful role in the GAA after 10 years of service.
Following the release of his last report as Director-General, Duffy was on the receiving end of some fierce media criticism over the Sky deal which expires in 2021 alongside the Eir contract.
Describing his Monaghan counterpart as a “realist”, Ó Fearghaíl added: “Paraic instinctively knows what is good for the GAA. He knows we are in a world where there are strong international sports and we have to compete with that.
“He knows rugby and soccer, for example, are funded by billion-pound deals that have the potential to do the GAA a lot of damage if we didn’t adjust ourselves accordingly.
“Paraic is astute to know the challenges that we face. Not fight against them but to react and be ahead of it.”
The Drumgoon clubman expressed his disappointment at the lack of progress with the Casement Park project, and feels the GAA has more work to do in making the association more inclusive, particularly in Ulster.
“I’d like to see more communities involved [in the GAA],” he said.
“There are still some communities where that would not be the case, particularly in the province of Ulster. In our mission statement we have the word ‘inclusivity’ – I think we have to be for everybody and I believe we are.
“Increasingly, there are more and more people coming into the GAA who see it gives them that sense of belonging, togetherness and a sense of comradeship – and that’s from non-Irish backgrounds.
“I’ve travelled to a lot of our units around the world and we can learn a lot from them. A lot of those clubs have five or six players from Ireland but the rest of them are people who have never been in Ireland.
“I think all cultures, all traditions and all backgrounds are welcome in the GAA club. I think we’re on that road and I’d like to see that grow.”
As Uachtarán CLG, Ó Fearghaíl hasn’t taken one day off in his three years at the helm.
As he prepares to make his final speech to Congress, he said he was looking forward to fishing in the "lovely lakes of Cavan" and becoming a volunteer of Drumgoon again.