Leitrim GAA Secretary’s Report to Convention
Tuarascáil an Rúnaí
Ar dtús ba mhaith liom a rá is onóir domsa an tuarascáil seo a chur romhaibh ag deireadh bliana gan chomparáid. Thosaíomar ar thréimhse nua i mí Eanáir ach, ó Mhárta, d’atharaigh gach rud do gach éinne ar fud na tíre agus ar fud an domhain. Tá súil again go mbeidh an tréimhse is measa thart agus go mbeidh bliain níos fearr romhainn in 2021.
It is indeed a great honour for me to present the Secretary’s Report to Convention at the end of the strangest year in living memory. As we embarked on what we hoped would be an exciting new decade, we were thrown back in our tracks on March 12 when the world stopped spinning and everything changed in what seemed like an instant. While it may have been coming over the previous few weeks, the harsh reality that confronted us was seismic for all concerned as the wheels literally stopped turning in almost all aspects of life. We were forced to adapt and are continuing to adapt as we face the reality of living with Covid-19. This adaptation has taken shape over the intervening months as we have gone through various stages of lockdown, reopening and reclosing that, ultimately, has played havoc with life in general, and more specifically in this regard, with how ‘we do’ GAA. There is more to life than playing games, and while not trivialising the importance of sport, there has been a much bigger picture at play. Many of our members have lost loved ones due to the hold the virus grasped on the nation and we remember them at this time as Christmas approaches. However, we are a sporting organisation and for many, many people involved in our organisation, sport is of utmost importance. Apart from the winning and losing, the very act of participation brightens our daily existence. The feel-good factor of being able to take to green sward was particularly in evidence throughout the summer months with the return to our fields. What had remained silent, perhaps overgrown in cases, became what they were always intended, as enthusiasm and hunger for play, in equal measure, was in evidence across all our clubs. It was great while it lasted, and unfortunately, we were forced to cease activity in early October with the finishing line almost within grasp. One more weekend would have done, but it wasn’t to be. We will complete 2020 eventually and while it would have meant so much more to those clubs who will have to wait to complete their 2020 games programme as others got to do, nonetheless, the record will be eventually updated.
County Senior Football
We embarked on an Allianz League campaign at the end of January with great hope that we could cement a place in Division 3, building on last year’s glorious promotion run. The team travelled to Celtic Park to take on the home side on January 25th and turned in arguably the best league performance in many years, just failing to take the verdict as a late Derry rally endured the points were shared. Memories of the FBD reversal earlier that month, as a very much weakened Leitrim team was cast aside, as the team set itself up for the season with a valuable point earned on the road. A nine-point home reversal against Cork then followed in advance of three crucial games that could make or break our season. An out of sorts performance on February 9th in Pearse Park saw us come away empty-handed as Longford easily brushed us aside in the second half and we succumbed to an eight-point defeat. The stakes were rising as this competition unfolded and on February 23rd we hosted Offaly in Avantcard Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada. Unfortunately, from a position of control, we lost our way and Offaly took the two points which ultimately proved to be our undoing as this loss was all that separated us from survival at the season’s much-delayed end. We travelled to Dundalk on March 1st with little knowledge of what would unfold in the two weeks that were due to separate these respective rounds. The team turned on a master class performance to dismantle and ultimately relegate the home side and as we travelled home from this fixture expectation was rising and with a trip to Newry just two weeks away, our destiny remained firmly in our hands. The hand of history took over and on March 12th with the Taoiseach’s Washington announcement, all came to a shuddering halt!
We were thrown into a state of grave uncertainty which effectively continues to this day. We entered a period in our lives that continues to unfold without precedent in the modern age. Prediction and guesswork became the norm as our leaders strove to map out for us a continuance of living in a ‘new’ manner. We wondered at one stage would there be a ball pucked or kicked in what remained of 2020. The odds were very much against initially, but thankfully, play resumed under an entirely new set of circumstances. There was much reservation about the return of the inter-county game in the midst of a pandemic, and particularly as the nation headed into the teeth of a second wave of the virus. In hindsight, it has proved to the correct decision overall as the dreary months of November and December have been shortened with the feast of action that has unfolded in our living rooms over these months, and excitement has been brought to a fever pitch across the nation. We have adapted very well and certainly have found a new way of doing things currently.
As regards the conclusion of our Allianz League campaign, there was much comment about our decision to not travel to Newry for the rearranged match with Down on October 17th. It was highly unfortunate that on the eve of the much-heralded intercountry calendar that we found ourselves in this position. The fact remains, however, that we had a number of Covid issues associated with the group and this resulted in the unfortunate and untimely decision not to travel. We found ourselves in the eye of a storm over that particular weekend as a number of commentators felt the urge to be unfairly judgemental as regards the position that was taken. However, having availed of the GAA Rapid Testing Programme during the following week, our position became abundantly clear to all as we faced into our Allianz date of destiny with Tipperary, at home, on October 25th. A further two players tested positive and we faced into our last league game short four players due to the effects of the virus. Following a terrific performance, our lads fell just short, with Tipperary securing a two-point win and we, unfortunately, made the drop back to Division 4.
Our championship campaign commenced and concluded on November 1st when we welcomed Mayo to Avantcard Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada. In what seemed like a throwback to the 1990s as knockout championship football returned, our lads set about their task in a manly fashion. With by and large controlled football they soaked up all the visitors could throw at them and answered their opponents in every facet of play, with the exception of goal scoring and as it turned out, the only difference between the teams were the two goals, and so our season ended. I wish to thank the players and team management for their efforts over the disjointed season. While we may have suffered league relegation, there is still a lot to look forward to for this talented group of players and we are delighted that Terry Hyland and his management team have been persuaded to continue in that role for next year at least.
As regards our last Allianz League opponents, Tipperary, I must congratulate them, in this historic year and on the weekend of the poignant and excellently organised B100dy Sunday commemoration, on their Munster Championship success on a day which lifted the nation. In this congratulatory context, we also include our neighbours Cavan on their magnificent Ulster success on the same day! While their respective journeys have concluded at All-Ireland Semi-final stages they may reflect on glorious campaigns. We wish our provincial colleagues Mayo the best of luck in the December 19th decider and in this strangest of years, wouldn’t it be a western tonic if their particular famine was concluded!
Underage County Football
It has been a mixed year for our underage teams. The Under 20 Group played in the Philly McGuinness Memorial Cup through January but had no joy in their games played against Fermanagh and Longford on January 4th and 11th respectively. They faced Galway in the first round of the Connacht Championship in Elphin on February 22nd. A much-fancied Galway side, which has since qualified for the All-Ireland Final due to be played on December 19th, monopolised the second half despite a game performance from our lads. We thank the squad and team management for their dedication to this team over the winter and early part of the year.
At Under 17 level, under the direction of Brendan Guckian and his management team, it has been a most frustrating season. Their competition, originally due to be played in May/June, was postponed and rearranged for late October. It suffered the same fate in the week leading into the competition and has now been ultimately resurrected and scheduled for December/January. The play Galway on Saturday, December 12th, and in a knockout competition, their progress will be, ultimately, results dependent. Nonetheless, very valuable work has been carried out with these players in the limited time available to them and we acknowledge the great efforts made by players, their parents, and the management team in salvaging some progress from the season for a talented group of young players.
Following last year’s glorious Lory Meagher campaign, it was always going to be a challenging season to build on that progress. Under a new management team headed by Olcan Conway, they set about their task in an excellent manner. In a very tight and competitive Allianz Hurling 3B campaign which commenced with defeat on January 26th versus Fermanagh, they rallied brilliantly and despite another loss to Sligo on February 23rd, their victories over Cavan and Lancashire on February 9th and March 1st were enough to secure a League Final place with Sligo. As with our footballers, this was put on hold and did not ultimately take place until October 17th. Despite their best efforts on the day, the Sligo lads prevailed and carried home the title with a four-point winning margin.
The real test for this group of players was ahead of them in the Nickey Rackard Cup. A chastening experience in the first outing on October 24th in the Athletic Grounds resulted in Armagh easily claiming the verdict. On November 7th they placed their status on the line in Pearse Park Longford. In what doubled up as Championship Quarter Final/Relegation Final there was a huge prize for the winners. After a terrific second-half performance, our lads took the verdict, and Championship status was preserved. Onwards on Saturday, November 14th for a Championship Semi-Final in McHale Park. Giving everything and well in the match until the third quarter, it all went downhill from there and the home side qualified for the final.
However, it has been a year of progress for our hurling fraternity and we congratulate them on their efforts. In this, we include players and all members of team management and officialdom. Anecdotally, we should record that all games in all competitions ultimately ended up being played away from home! We look forward to welcoming hurling back to Avantcard Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in 2021. Our thanks to Cathaoirleach Pádraig Ó Conchubhair and Rúnaí Hilary Ó Faoláin for their effort and dedication to the small ball.
Adult Club Football
We were looking forward to the implementation of the structural changes approved in December 2018. For obvious reasons, these changes will have to wait for another day. With the cessation of activities in early March, uncertainty again prevailed. The defined club season which was decided on by Árd Comhairle Management, saw activity resume in our clubs in late June, with competition allowed to commence on July 17th. Following the conclusion of a consultative process that included all of the stakeholders, most importantly our clubs, and without having the benefit of regular club league activity, it was straight into a club championship that bore the majority, but not all, of the structural regulations that had been envisaged in December 2018. Adaptations included the involvement of the top four teams of each respective group in the three main championships until at least quarter-final stages, rather than three as having been planned for. A decision to allow the clubs to host home games, which was a new departure for the Leitrim Club Championship at the highest club levels, proved very popular and the added bonus of collecting the gate receipts for these matches was a win-win situation for all clubs concerned. We acknowledge the fine efforts made by clubs in hosting these games in difficult times. Players had to get used to arriving togged out as dressing rooms were out of bounds for the duration of the competitions. Our forefathers would have enjoyed that one as they played out their entire careers without the use of dressing rooms! Health Questionnaires and Hand Sanitisers became the order of all events be they training and/or matches.
What transpired was arguably the finest club championship series in years. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that club management teams had to contend with fields full of enthusiastic players who, after a long enforced lay-off, were hungry for activity. This hunger and enthusiasm transformed the club matches and there was just a simple freshness about the season. While it’s obvious that the ‘rest period’ contributed to this freshness, the fact that the county players were also fresh was a huge asset to their clubs. In any event, the competitions progressed nicely through late July, August, and into September. While there were difficulties with limited attendances and all ticket games, closed doors, open doors, and all that it entailed, we managed to conclude the Connacht Gold Senior Football Championship on September 27th with Mohill facing a St Mary’s Kiltoghert team which resurrected its senior campaign from the brink of disaster at the group stages. Ultimately it was a bridge too far for the St. Mary’s Kiltoghert lads as a finely drilled Mohill side, blessed with talent, delivered its third Fenagh Cup in the last six seasons.
The destination of the Frank Reynolds Cup for the 2020 Smith Monumental Intermediate Football Championship remains unknown. Unfortunately, Covid issues forced the cancellation of the final on its original date of September 26th and its rescheduled date of October 11th fell inside the most recent lockdown. The staggered nature of the club championships caused the same fate to befall the ultimate destination of the Vistamed Junior A and Junior B Championships, despite finalists having been declared. It is highly unfortunate for Annaduff, Gortletteragh, Aughavas, Cloone, Allen Gaels (second team) and Mohill (second team) that they will have to wait until 2021 to conclude these competitions. However, concluded they will be. The Vistamed Junior C Championship, a new competition in 2020 was concluded and I congratulate Leitrim Gaels and St Patrick’s Dromahair on reaching the final with Leitrim Gaels landing the title ahead of lockdown.
CCC Liatroma, under the leadership of Cathaoirleach Séamus Mac Manais and Rúnaí Uinseann Ó Ruairc, is to be highly lauded for the manner in which it delivered a games programme that was highly organised and made optimum use of the timeframe available to it in advance of the return of the intercountry season. It was such a pity that a worsening national picture caught up with the final week of the schedule so close to the finishing line.
Adult Club Hurling
There remain but two teams participating in the Leitrim Senior Hurling Championship. However, for the second year in a row, it took extra time to separate them in the final. Again, the most recent winning habit of Carrick Hurling prevailed and Cluainín Iomáint was left heartbroken once again. It was a thrill a minute for the entirety of its duration and we congratulate both clubs on keeping the ancient game alive at club level.
Underage Club Football
It was the most difficult season for underage football. Young players require activity and with that in mind, lockdowns were difficult for these groupings as they require an outlet for their energies. There were still meaningful activities organised during the summer months and this was very welcome. Competitions required some modifications as travel considerations had to be factored in. It was extremely difficult for clubs and young players and indeed their parents had to make many sacrifices. However, these sacrifices were offered up for the joy of a return to our pitches and what may have appeared a chore in other times were willingly complied with in order that our clubs’ young players could have a meaningful season. Almost all competitions were completed in accordance with the schedule and in common with the adult grades, one more week would have done! Our thanks to CCC Liatroma, Coiste na nÓg Officers Paul Murphy and Mary Kenny, and in particular Competition Administrator Seán McGoldrick for their efforts during the playing season.
Again our referees stepped up to the plate. A condensed season, shoehorned into a condensed timeframe, placed considerable pressure on our referee pool. They responded excellently and in this regard, I acknowledge the great efforts of Referees’ Co-Ordinator Éamonn Ó Grádaigh who has taken to his role with the same professionalism he brought to his refereeing career. We look forward to this fine work being built on in the years ahead. Maith thú, a Éamoinn.
Coaching and Games Development
it’s hard to quantify the difficulties that Coaching and Games encountered throughout 2020. The very essence of this department’s work is engagement with clubs and its players, in addition to being highly involved in the preparation of the various academies. They found new ways of doing things and engaged most purposefully with online course presentations throughout the first lockdown period. Ironically there was more time for learning during this period and we are hopeful that the efforts of the staff, led by Games Manager Thomas Keenan will have resulted in upskilling that may otherwise have not happened. The decision to cancel the Kellogg’s Cúl Camps which previously had been carried out by the Coaching and Games Department resulted in clubs taking ownership of these activities, with guidance available, if they so wished. As it turned out two camps were organised in Ballinamore and Drumshanbo and, by all accounts, these were very successful.
In more recent times, the finalising and publication of the Leitrim GAA Player Pathway Framework, which is due to be officially launched at tonight’s convention, is the culmination of a lot of research and planning by the Coaching and Games Department and I welcome its arrival. What we have is a clearly defined document that will, hopefully, bear fruit for the clubs and its players, and the very kernel of its aspiration should clearly set out the pathway to the future and result in better quality players for the future. The document is to be embraced by all involved in the future of Leitrim GAA.
We were saddened to lose GDA Seán Ó Gallachóir in August last. His return to Primary School Teaching in September has robbed us a GDA who invested so much energy into the clubs and young players in his charge. We have huge admiration for the contribution Seán made to Leitrim GAA and, in wishing him well in resuming his teaching career, we are heartened by the fact that his advice and guidance may not be lost to us totally. We look forward to engaging with him to some degree into the future when ‘normality’ restores.
It is great compliment to Cisteoir Martín Mac Artáin that he can report that the finances of Leitrim GAA have, to a large extent, survived 2020. While the accounts have recorded a deficit on the year’s trading, that is very much to have been expected. The decision to hand over the gate receipts of the group stages of the club championship may have contributed to this deficit but it was still the correct call in that clubs, which are the very bedrock of our association, need to survive and operate meaningfully. We trust that this decision will have helped clubs to operate more meaningfully in what was their busy period, when fundraising at club level was hampered at best and to all intents and purposes nowhere near what may have been expected in any normal year.
The success of the Leitrim GAA Supporters Club, with its delayed draw in August, again proved what can be achieved. It remains our greatest single fundraising event and heads into its 35th year of existence in 2021. Fundraising is challenging at the best of times but is heading into unprecedented challenges in the future as we emerge from the Covid era. I thank the officers of the Leitrim GAA Supporters Club Committee, both Dublin based and at home for their efforts over 2020.
Uncertainty will hover over our finances over the next couple of years. While the Inter-County Championships have been propped up by Government Funding this year, we wonder what will happen in 2021. There can be no doubt that financial headaches lie ahead and we may have come up with new ways of solving them. The lack of spectators at the Inter-County Championships will have a knock-on effect on all of us. How this manifests itself into 2021 remains to be seen.
In dealing with the finances, An Cisteoir Mairtín has detailed an acknowledgment of our sponsors. I wish to thank all our sponsors for their support in 2020. As they are generally all in business, it is understandable that there were hits in this unprecedented year. Our sponsors have remained loyal to us over many years and it is incumbent on us to return a share of this loyalty at this time.
Cultúr agus Teanga
Like most other branches of our activities, Scór took a major hit in the year gone by as it ground to a halt following the Scór Sinsir Finals of March 6th. The very nature of it being an indoor event, it was never really going to resurface following shut down. While Scór na nÓg 2020 was lucky enough to have been concluded, it remains to be seen if the 2021 version really gets a green light at all.
Having held the reins in this department over the past five years, Clár NÍ Chrosáin must step away from the Oifigeach Cultúra agus Teanga portfolio. She can be justifiably proud of the efforts she has made in keeping Scór going over her term in office. While the younger generation of participants has remained consistently strong, it is proving challenging to keep it going at the adult level. Nonetheless, Claire has been excellent in this position, and we are delighted that her sister Laura has been nominated unopposed to take over at this convention. We look forward to a continuation of the great efforts to keep the cultural wing of our operation going and for, perhaps, renewed enthusiasm from all of our clubs once the Covid era has passed.
Finding Ways to Help Others
While in lockdown, our clubs and members involved themselves in helping the vulnerable in their respective communities. Working in co-operation with Leitrim County Council, Leitrim GAA can be justifiably proud of the efforts of all our clubs to demonstrate what a club and community is all about. We congratulate the staff of Leitrim County Council for the herculean operation that we were delighted to be involved with to ensure that life was made a little easier for those who were cocooning and isolated in their communities. It brought true values to the forefront as we proved with certainty that participation and community are not all about winning and losing matches.
Various fundraisers were organised for the needy and I wish to acknowledge the efforts of our County Minor Team who initiated and carried through a fundraiser in late April early into early May which was a credit to these young lads. The combined efforts of our County Adult Players on May 16th resulted in a mammoth operation that brought Leitrim people from across the globe together in a day to be remembered. The funds raised on this day were shared between Sláinte New York, Pieta House, and North West Stop. We were delighted to have been associated with this effort and I wish to salute the personnel who promoted this campaign vigorously, particularly our players led by Team Manager Terry Hyland, with Brendan Doyle, Brian Blake, and PRO Barbara working extremely hard behind the scenes. It was terrific performance which netted €20,000 for the various charities.
A special word of congratulations to our main team sponsors, Seamus and Caitríona Clarke, on being the proud recipients of the Leitrim Guardian Personalities of the Year Award, for overseas. This is a fitting reward for a couple who has given so much, and in this case to their New York Community in their heavy involvement in the Sláinte 2020 fundraising event.
Communications and Activity Coverage
If there ever was a year that communication was paramount, we have just lived through it. The constantly evolving nature of where we are and where we are headed proved challenging for all our stakeholders. Prediction of what may come next became the essence of news across all media platforms as the ‘normal’ run of events was cast aside. We must acknowledge the efforts of the Communications Department in Croke Park to keep us updated on a most fluid situation. Once we got the green light to resume activities, with spectator attendance restrictions, and also a crammed calendar, we had to find new ways of doing things. We are indebted to the staff of the Leitrim Observer for its excellent coverage of our games. It involved the co-operation of our Club PROs, given the nature of forced scheduling and simultaneous events. What resulted was an all-encompassing print media coverage that involved the goodwill and extra effort of many parties involved, headed by Leitrim Observer Sports Editor John Connolly and our PRO Barbara Loughlin Byrne. We are most pleased, that with the joined-up thinking of all concerned, it was made to work.
Beyond that, the relaxation of contract conditions governing live broadcasting of events resulted in many of our games being beamed out live via Facebook. We acknowledge the expertise with which club personnel embraced this relaxation and the coverage of our games was a joy to behold while giving many who would never have been in a position to view, particularly overseas, the opportunity to watch our club games live. It was a definite positive of the season’s events.
Our own Livestream team busily prepared themselves for a slice of the action and what a success that proved. Carefully trialling the set up in the round-robin stages and constantly improving the coverage, these free events were pulling in huge numbers. ‘Pay per view’ was ready for the knockout stages and the expertise and professionalism involved in the setup bore great fruit as it proved a massive hit. The quality of the coverage was second to none and gained great plaudits from all viewers. We acknowledge the countless hours of preparation and precision placed in this venture by Brian Blake, Brendan Doyle, Con Doyle, Martin Costello, John Lynch, and Martin McGowan. It was a roadshow that any county could be proud of. With restrictions and all ticket events at the stages at which crowds should have been naturally growing, this venture was a revenue source for Leitrim GAA that could only have been dreamed of in years previous. Maith sibh go léir.
I wish to thank all of the staff of the Leitrim Observer and in particular Claire McGovern, John Connolly, Donal O Grady, and Willie Donnellan for the coverage of our events in 2020. It was a tough year for print media but they kept the show on the road. Breifni Earley made tremendous efforts and sacrifices of his time in order to provide superb coverage of our activities through his very popular Leitrim Daily production. Preview shows and post-match interviews proved extremely popular across the summer and we thank Breifni for the myriad of events he covered at all levels in 2020. Our thanks also to Austin O Callaghan, PJ Leddy and the team at Ocean FM, Dave Hooper and Darren Mulvey of Shannonside Northern Sound who always kept abreast of the news as it related to our brand over the past twelve months. We are greatly appreciative of your combined efforts. Special thanks to James Molloy for his photography and valued input with the preparation of the County Finals and other match prgrammes, working closely with our PRO Barbara Loughlin Byrne.
County Management Committee
I must place on record my appreciation for our Management Committee. The Emergency Powers Act of 2020 placed the conventional power of the County Committee on the shoulders of the Management Committee and this has been extended beyond its original date of November 30th. It was a difficult season but the Management Committee has led our county through the choppy waters. The advent of MS Teams has resulted in all of the business being completed online. While not always ideal, people have adapted excellently, and if nothing else it has become a valuable time saver! It remains to be seen if it can continue to be used into the future beyond these difficulties. It certainly has its merits and meetings can be facilitated at short notice from anywhere and streamlining of operations can be more readily facilitated.
I record my appreciation for my fellow officers over the past year. Little did any of us think last December as we left convention what would lie ahead. I thank all of the officers of Leitrim GAA for the execution of the responsibility they bore over the past year and particularly Cathaoirleach Eanna Mac Stíbhin in his first year in the ‘hot seat’. It was a baptism of fire for the new Cathaoirleach!!
We are in the realms of prediction now which is a dangerous game. We hope that with the imminent arrival of a vaccine that the Covid era will pass sooner rather than later. Normally at this stage, we would have a clear pathway towards the 2021 playing season and all that would remain to be filled in would be the match results. We still a long journey away from that certainty. It remains undecided what shape the intercountry calendar will yet take in 2021. What we can predict is that it will again be different from what would have usually been taken for granted. The club calendar will take its shape from whatever it is that is decided at the inter-county level. There will certainly be challenges at all levels.
What is of paramount importance is that we remain safe. The GAA was criticised by many as regards the return to play, particularly at the highest level. However, we have completed our business well throughout 2020. Clubs played their part in this collective responsibility and a load shared is a load lessened. We would respectfully ask our clubs to remain patient with whatever unfolds over the next twelve months. We will strive to be meaningful in our approach to activity but it will have to be guided and is likely to be different again. Time will tell!!
In conclusion, I thank all my fellow officers for their efforts over the past twelve months. It was a struggle at times keeping up with an ever-evolving situation from March with literally no precedents to guide us along. I wish to record my appreciation of all club officers for the excellence of their co-operation in what were patience sapping times.
To the staff of Comhairle Connacht CLG, under the direction of Rúnaí Seán Ó Pronntaigh, I say thanks for your assistance. It was a testing time for the staff of Páirc an Chrócaigh. In this regard, I record our appreciation of the efforts you made in order to keep us informed and guiding a pathway to a safe return to action for the best part of the year. I salute the leadership shown by Uachtarán Seán O Horáin and Árd Stiurthóir Tomás Ó Riain in what have proved to be stressful times.
To all who have suffered bereavements during the past year, I offer our sincerest sympathies.
As we bid farewell to 2020 we look forward to brighter days ahead.
Déaglán Ó Buacháin
Rúnaí Coiste Chontae Liatroma