Kenny Archer: Jarlath Burns has huge task at his feet in protecting GAA's amateur status

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Jarlath Burns rises to fist a high ball for Armagh above Derry's Anthony Tohill
Jarlath Burns rises to fist a high ball for Armagh above Derry's Anthony Tohill

I've noticed a few humble-brags purporting to praise GAA President-Elect Jarlath Burns while actually blowing the writer's own trumpet.

I may as well join in with the fun.

When I started out with The Irish News I wrote a few 'colour' pieces about major GAA matches in 1999, including covering Armagh's dramatic run to a first Ulster SFC triumph since 1982 and their involvement in the All-Ireland semi-final against Meath. Remember them?

At some stage, the then Orchard County captain Jarlath Burns told me he enjoyed my humorous writings and encouraged me to continue them. So you know who to blame, folks. He's not all good.

Bantz aside, the Silverbridge man is an excellent choice to lead the Association from next year.

Jarlath doesn't shout the odds, but he is an inspirational leader.

I can relate this one now, but speaking to him ahead of that 1999 Ulster SFC Final against old rivals Down, Burns was utterly confident that Armagh would win. He didn't want it put in print but he assured me: "We will beat Down."

I had tipped Armagh to win Ulster that year, perhaps the last time I got such a prediction correct.

I'm not taking much of a risk in saying that Jarlath Burns will be an excellent GAA President. Not only will he get things done, he will get good things done.

Protecting the GAA's amateur status is a big ask, though, a huge task.

The misapprehension about King Canute (Cnut), ruler of England and Denmark a millennium ago, is that he was a fool, worse still an arrogant one, who thought he could turn back the tide and instead merely ended up getting his feet and robes soaked.

The reality is that Cnut was demonstrating the limitations of kingly power, and instead illustrating the dominion of God; at the very least he was showing he understood that even a king cannot do the impossible.

Jarlath Burns is neither arrogant nor a fool, indeed he's very far from either of those things.

He won't attempt the impossible.

Yet, although no one can turn back the tide, it does go in and out.

Burns is quite right to point to the excessive training demands on players as the driver behind the exorbitant expenditure on inter-county teams.

The GAA could 'police' the amount of behind closed doors training sessions – people see, people know, people talk – but that would require people to inform on their own. That's not done.

However, the GAA could place limits on the number of backroom team members, restricting how many are allowed into grounds and around dug-outs.

A closer watch needs to be kept on county accounts too; no more bail-outs. If you over-spend, it's your problem to sort out, not the GAA's.

Players also need to be encouraged to stand up for themselves against draining demands on their time and energy. More importantly, they need to be supported when they do so, not dropped or vilified.

The new format including more Championship matches for all counties should help re-balance the ratio of training to games - but regulation and, especially, enforcement of such regulation from the top is absolutely required.

Rugby knew it couldn't stop the brown envelope, 'cash in the boots', shamateurism culture, so went professional in the mid-Nineties.

The GAA isn't at that stage yet, and it's not the players who receive the bulk of the money swirling around.

Incidentally, two years before Cnut became 'King of All England' in 1016, the High King of Ireland Brian Boru had been slain at the (in)famous Battle of Clontarf. Brian had ended Ulster dominance on the island, but then died battling against a Norse/Leinster/Dublin force.

In-fighting has a long history in Ireland, and that's a tradition the GAA carries on, so Burns will have his work cut out in effecting serious change.

Brian Boru's burial place? Armagh. The Church of Ireland cathedral.

As an erudite man, and a boy from the county Armagh, Jarlath Burns will know that. His efforts to engage with unionists are laudable, while maintaining the nationalist ethos of the Association.

Yet a united Ireland might be more easily achieved than a truly amateur GAA.


I only spoke to Dessie O'Neill a couple of times, but it was obvious he was an absolute gentleman. The first occasion was after his wife Patricia's funeral.

Sadly, Dessie – father of Northern Ireland international soccer manager Michael – has now passed away too.

The late parents of Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, Des and Pat O'Neill, pictured with some of his trophies and photographs.
The late parents of Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, Des and Pat O'Neill, pictured with some of his trophies and photographs.

The other occasion was after I wrote an article in December 2018 about former GAA President Seamus Mac Ferran. Dessie O'Neill called the office to ask for a contact number for Seamus's eldest son Ciaran.

More than half a century on, Dessie had never forgotten that Seamus had been very helpful to him as a young player in the Fifties. He wanted to speak to Ciaran and pass on his own memories of Seamus.

Unfortunately, I lost Dessie's telephone number and despite attempts to get it never got round to interviewing him. He had agreed to do that, although modestly claiming that he didn't have much story to tell.

The truth was that he had represented Antrim senior hurlers throughout the Fifties and into the second half of the Sixties, making his debut as a 17-year-old, and also hurled for Armagh when he moved to that county. He represented Ulster in the Railway Cup too, with his first appearance as an 18-year-old. At club level, he starred for St Gall's in Belfast, then Armagh Cuchullain's and, coaxed out of retirement, for All Saints in Ballymena.

Dessie O'Neill obviously passed on his sporting talent to Michael – and his other son, Sean, a top class runner. Dessie also set an example of how to live your life.

Deepest sympathy to Michael and the extended O'Neill clan. RIP


I’m extremely saddened also to have learned yesterday of the death last week of Mrs Helen McRory, the beloved wife of former Tyrone senior football manager Art.

An absolutely lovely lady, and a great Gael herself, Mrs McRory was very helpful to me when I started out at the IN. Perhaps because she knew my mum, probably because she was just so pleasant herself, she always forced ‘Arthur’ to come to the phone to take my calls – or even to phone me back if he was out. Unheard of behaviour, even in those days, when managers had far less media to deal with.

A former Principal of St Joseph’s Convent school in Donaghmore, Helen McRory will be sorely missed. My deepest sympathy to Art and his family circle. RIP.