Cahair O’Kane: What will Jarlath Burns’ in-tray look like?

GAA President-elect Jarlath Burns
Jarlath Burns will take over as the GAA's 41st president at Congress this weekend.

AT around 4.30pm on Saturday afternoon, after a purgatorial 12 months, Jarlath Burns will take the microphone in the Canal Court Hotel and be sworn in as the GAA’s 41st president.

Sixty years after his fellow Armagh man Alf Murray – also a school principal - took office, Burns will become the eighth man from Ulster to hold court.

The role has changed significantly since Padraig MacNamee became the first. It has become more ceremonial, a job of guiding and advising rather than actually implementing change.

When Larry McCarthy officially hands the reins over to Jonny Burns, he will have three years to try and shape where the organisation is headed.

You imagine the in-tray on his new email address will fill up like Jim Carrey’s email account when he takes over as God in Bruce Almighty.

Here are some of the items that could go straight into his starred folder and that are very fixable with a bit of direction and common sense.

Rein in the demands

Davy Burke maybe didn’t realise the size of the cat he was letting out of the bag when he began to bemoan his list of issues in Roscommon after their defeat by Dublin at the weekend.

Burke revealed that his team had trained 65 times already this season.

It’s easy to criticise him but all he’s doing is trying to keep up. Does anyone think Mayo and Galway and Dublin and Kerry are doing any less over the course of a year?

Yet none of it masks the madness of it all.Burns has previously questioned whether the “juggernaut,” as he called it, can keep on rolling at the speed it’s at.

He has had issues with the GPA too and bear in mind how virulently they railed against the GAA’s attempts to put a strict cap on the number of training sessions post-Covid, with the two parties eventually settling on a maximum of four per week.

Counties have scope to increase that to six during December and January, all of which is covered by mileage claims, driving the cost of the inter-county game last year up towards €40.

Burns has the platform from which to shout stop, to start capping costs and try and pull it in a bit, but whether any president is now actually able to effect that type of change is the question.


The toughest of all tasks, refereeing has been in the spotlight in recent weeks following the failed fitness tests that were all subsequently passed the second time around.

There’s an irony in there somewhere that a lot of referees didn’t appreciating the tough policing of the first test.

But they are over-burdened and under-valued. The players are exceptionally well catered for but referees are left largely to their own devices, with no public support when things go wrong as they try to keep order with a rulebook that has more holes in it than your local golf club.

Standards of refereeing have declined for the simple reason that very few people are being attracted to it.

Pay them more, train them better, give linesmen more powers in terms of calling fouls, make them all as semi-professionals as the players are and simplify the rules.

Otherwise the gap in standard between players and officials will continue to widen, they’ll keep on getting public kickings with nobody coming to save them, and the next batch coming behind will be worse again.


In O’Donnell Park on Saturday, Donegal hosted Fermanagh.St Eunan’s forward-thinking chairman John Haran took to social media during the week to let supporters know that anyone needing help accessing tickets and wished to pay in cash, a desk would be set up with local volunteers on hand to help.

They used the club’s credit card to purchase and print the tickets for 120 people.

Most GAA members have no issue with the move to an online process but for many, particularly older members, it is troublesome and it is off-putting.

One or two cash turnstiles at every game is a very simple, quick fix that would mean a lot and quieten unnecessary dissent.

Discipline and appeals

Ulster CEO Brian McAvoy called in his annual report for a rise in the cost of taking a case to the DRA, following on from the shenanigans around last year’s county final in his native Down and county secretary Sean Óg McAteer’s similar comments.

Justice should not be the preserve of the wealthy, but nor should it be open to taking appeals that are borderline vexatious.

The disciplinary structures are outdated. From county to provincial to Central Hearings to Central Appeals to the DRA, there are too many layers and too many different bodies.

It has all become very litigious and the rulebook is not built for that. It was constructed in a time when people more readily took their oil.

Now it’s all ‘the referee’s report says it was a punch, the video shows it was more of an open hand’, but without the mechanism to downgrade or alter a suspension. Disciplinary bodies need to be given greater discretion, so that everything is not just dealt with in the black and white.

Double-header agreements

We saw the case at the weekend where Antrim and Down were playing in men and ladies’ football on the same day in two different grounds just over a mile apart.

While the men were in Corrigan Park, the ladies were over at Davitt’s.

It’s a scenario that we see so often and which is not only avoidable, but missing a huge opportunity to promote the women’s game.

You won’t have double-headers every weekend but where it makes sense, the GAA need to make a statement of support towards the LGFA by bringing forward a proposal over how to split the gate receipts and just get it done.

It would mean the GAA taking a small financial hit but it would be such a positive and sensible gesture.

Be bold

Ulster, particularly the wee six, can find that its voice is often unheard and misunderstood.

The idea of an Armagh president will give comfort to Gaels in the north but what if he does as he should and makes a beeline for the provincial championships?

We are deeply attached to the Ulster championship but we’re awful fond of reminding our southern brethren that it’s a 32-county organisation. And the other three provincial championships offer virtually nothing.

Yes, Derry v Donegal, Cavan v Monaghan and the winners facing Tyrone are all attractive fixtures but they’re not enough to justify the dross that fills most of the middle of the football season.

We go from such a high in the league to such a lull.

Take Monaghan’s path to a provincial final – Cavan, Tyrone, Derry/Donegal – and line it up with Clare’s sole obstruction of Tipperary or Waterford, but we do it to ourselves.

A more equitable 32-county championship would help Ulster teams, not hinder them.

It would take a particularly bold visionary to come from Ulster and be the man that drives that change