GAA President Larry McCarthy hopes kids are back playing soon
By John Harrington
Larry McCarthy made GAA history today when he became the 40th President of the GAA and, as a representative of New York GAA, the first overseas officials to hold the office.
He spoke with GAA.ie to discuss the challenge of assuming the role during the Covid-19 pandemic and to outline what’s on his to do list for the coming three years.
GAA.ie: Larry, top of the clár for you as GAA President will surely be dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and all that entails?
Larry McCarthy: Top of clár is getting back on the field. Getting the clubs back is obviously the most important thing but that doesn't mean they should be first in sequence.
I would make an appeal to the Government that once the schools are reopened to let the kids back to playing in the clubs. We did it safely last year both with running club activity as well as the Cúl Camps. It was highly regulated and done very effectively. You would hope somebody will see the benefit of allowing us back.
I understand it's more onerous this year because of the variant. But we proved we could do it before, so let us do it again.
If we get the kids back that will bring some fun back into peoples' lives and it will give parents a little break from this harrowing pandemic, and it would be great for the GAA to have some activity back in our clubs because we're absolutely zoomed out at this stage.
The most important thing in the context of the overall Association is having the clubs back on the field. That doesn't necessarily mean they will be first prior to the inter-county game, but having them back is most important.
Then if they come back they'll be able to generate some income, hopefully, back into county boards who will then be able to fund inter-county activity. But the critical thing is getting the clubs back.
GAA.ie: In terms of when we get back to playing of competitive matches again, it's currently impossible to have any certainty on that. Presumably we will be led by the science on this?
Larry McCarthy: We will be led by the science and the public health authorities. Anything else is only idle speculation. Anyone demanding that we should have a plan for this or that or the other thing, no. We will be led by the science, the public health, and, essentially, the Government.
Whenever they say we can go back, we'll go back. And whenever they say we can do this, we'll do that. Look, we're not the NBA, we're not the NFL. We can't create bubbles. Everyone of us goes back into the community. We can't isolate ourselves just because of the type of community organisation that we are.
GAA.ie: It's been a really tough time in so many different ways, but have some positives also come from the situation we find ourselves in in terms of showing us the best way forward by splitting our season between club and county.
Larry McCarthy: Yes, inadvertently we learned that having the club playing in the middle of the summer is the thing to do and we have recalibrated the calendar accordingly and adopted the split season as the model going forward. So now the clubs have the hard ground to be playing on in so far as they'll now be playing at the best time of the year and on pitches in their best condition.
That dawned on me last year when I was watching the 'Barrs and the Glen one night on GAAGo. Aside from Pat Horgan who would be flicking balls right, left, and centre anyway, other players were trying the same thing and obviously enjoying playing summer hurling when they would normally have played a match like that in less than prime weather conditions in October/November and just not had the same enjoyment.
I think the inter-county lads going back to their clubs and playing with their clubs for an extended period was something they also thoroughly enjoyed. They once again felt like full members of their club and team and were no longer trying to save themselves for someone else. I think they all enjoyed that very much and that's a lesson for us. Adopting the split-season will hopefully continue that.
GAA.ie: These are obviously very financially challenging times for the GAA now. There was a reduction in the cost of preparing inter-county teams in 2020, but it was still very high. Is that an area we still need to address?
Larry McCarthy: Just look at the cupboard, it's kind of bare. So we have to cut our cloth to suit our measure. We're going to have to run a very, very tight ship in terms of expenses across the board, not just in terms of inter-county teams.
I think we've begun to manage that in a good way by the number of training sessions we've suggested and the number of players who would be at those training sessions - three sessions a week and 32 players. And what that does as well for the players is that it cuts down on that ludicrous number of hours that the ESRI report said they were engaging in Gaelic Games with, 31 or 32 hours a week. That's not sustainable.
So, by putting these what might be considered cost-cutting measures in place we're giving players a better chance to play and prepare themselves and have something else happening outside their inter-county activities.
GAA.ie: Do you think we'll emerge on the other side of this Covid-19 pandemic as a wiser and stronger Association?
Larry McCarthy: I do. We'll very much appreciate the club more than we have in the last number of years and that's not a knock on anyone at all. The importance of the club became very, very prevalent last summer in terms of what the club did at a local level in supporting their own communities. We will continue to support them as much as we possibly can.
GAA.ie: A new unit of the GAA, 'World GAA', was formally established at Annual Congress today. You obviously know from your time in New York just how much the GAA means to so many people outside of Ireland. The GAA is no longer just a national sporting organisation, it's a world sporting organisation, isn't it?
Larry McCarthy: Yes, we are a world organisation. One of the things I would love to see, and we're not there yet but we're getting there, would be for the GAA to declare itself the International Federation of Gaelic Games. That's the vernacular that's used in international sport if you're a world governing body. So I don't see any reason why we wouldn't declare ourselves to be the International Federation of Gaelic Games and register ourselves as such.
That wouldn't take anything away from the fact that the headquarters are always going to be Croke Park and that we would be managed as an Association from Croke Park. But it goes to the idea that we are now a global organisation and that we have tentacles everywhere across the world. The only people who are playing Gaelic games at the moment are down in Australia where you still have games going on.
There is a lockdown here, but in other parts of the world the GAA is continuing to be played. We were able to get through the New York Championship last year thanks to Joan Henchy and the New York County Board. It was a great experience because it was an outlet of the Irish community and was some place to go and engage with which we haven't seen for a number of years.
That brings me back to the importance of the club. It wasn't the Connacht Championship, it was the fact that St. Barnabas and other clubs were able to participate during the summer and there were games on and some place to go during the week-day evenings and at the weekends in particular and it goes back to the notion of the club being our core.
GAA.ie: In terms of your to do list in the coming three years, what are the priorities for you?
Larry McCarthy: Get us back on the field. Everything else will flow from that. At the moment we're a sporting organisation without a sport. Get back on the field, get our activities going, get games going, get the club and inter-county games back again.
Then we'll be able to fill the coffers a little bit and then we'll be able to get back to distributing the money that we do all the time so the organisation can continue to grow and develop.
You can think about championship structures and development and all that sort of stuff, but the critical thing is to just get us back playing.
GAA.ie: Are you looking forward to living in Ireland again and getting around the country as part of your duties?
Larry McCarthy: Absolutely, I'll be getting around the country. There's no point in me just sitting in the stands, I'll be getting around to clubs and showing up at matches without any announcement. That's what I've been saying to people I've been talking to on the phone recently - I'll see you at a match somewhere sooner rather than later.