The job at hand is immense. The president oversees a volunteer organization that fields more than 50 teams in six divisions, playing matches on at least three fields in addition to their Gaelic Park headquarters in the Bronx.
With New York now a bonafide participant in the All-Ireland Championship series, the president must also ensure that the New York GAA proves a worthy host when the hurlers of Ulster and the Connaght footballers come calling in May.
All of this and more against a backdrop of reverse immigration that find clubs sometimes stretching the rules beyond the breaking point as they scramble to field competitive teams.
The election will be held Dec. 8 from 2-4 p.m. Here is a look at the candidates:
Liam Bermingham believes that a “complete overhaul,” from the Junior Board, up, is needed.
“It is a great thing to be in the Championship,” he saids, “but we have to do a better job taking care of the little things.”
Bermingham proposes setting up three committees to tackle what he believes are serious problem areas: a Field Committee, a Communications Committee, and a Disciplinary Committee.
With 75 percent of the association’s matches now played away from the Gaelic Park headquarters, at Van Cortlandt Park, Paddy’s Field and Rockland, the field committee would be charged with making sure that the pitch be in proper condition at game time. Lack of organization at these satellite sites has long been a problem, with matches routinely delayed while goalposts are set up and other problem attended to at the last minute.
Bermingham also sees a need for a communications committee with what he calls “a proper Public Relations Officer.” He believes this would provide accountability and lessen the likelihood of referees failing to turn up for games.
He also would like to improve the image the GAA presents to the outside world.
“I believe we have gotten some very bad publicity over the years and a lot of that has been our own fault,” he said. “Sometimes we have been our own worst enemy by trying to keep things hidden.”
Finally, the third committee that Bermingham hopes to establish is the disclipinary committee. In Bermingham’s view, lenient treatment has resulted, he said, in “an amount of thugishness that we have to eliminate.” Among other concerns, Bermingham points out that insurance has become increasingly difficult for the organization to obtain because of the high number of claims.
Illegal players were a bone of contention in the 2002 season. Accusations abounded, and although proof was hard to come by the consensus were that the bad old days were attempting to make a comeback.
Bermingham is unequivocal in his condemnation of this sort of gamesmanship.
“We have to have a zero-tolerance policy, and it has to start from the first day of the season,” he said. He believes that there is a “culture of cheating” in the organization that must be reversed and he would institute a player I.D. system to begin that process. Bermingham does not underestimate the difficulty of this task and he believes that although “no one wants to suspend anyone, that may be what it takes.”
Bermingham also favors a potentially controversial, if highly unlikely, elimination of all weekend players. While he has no problem with sanctioned players, who sign on with a club for up to 60 days, Bermingham believes that “the rich are getting richer,” in the race for top-notch weekenders.
Both candidates are members of the New York GAA Sports Corporation, an organization formed to secure the Randalls Island project for the GAA. Not surprisingly, Bermingham declares himself “100 percent behind this plan.”
“Not having our place is a disgrace,” he said. “Randalls Island is our last hope, our best hope.”
Bermingham believes that his record of service to the New York GAA since his arrival in New York in 1983 has prepared him well for a position that he calls “an honor.” For the last nine years, Bermingham has served as recording secretary and vice president, and, among other accomplishments, he has represented New York at the GAA Congress in Dublin.
“I have served my time in all capacities, I’m experienced, and I have a lot of new ideas,” Bermingham said. “I believe this is my time.”
Kieran O’Sullivan looks on this election “as an opportunity to improve the GAA.” After five years of Monty Maloney’s aggressive brand of leadership, O’Sullivan said he thinks “the time is right for a quieter guy.” The Local 16 (concrete) Union Organizer believes a more inclusive president will be a benefit to the association.
O’Sullivan said that the last two years have seen clubs slipping away from following the rules. “A blind man could see that teams are playing illegal players,” he said, “and once one team cheats, the next guy will too.”
Photo identification cards and player registration are at the forefront of O’Sullivan’s plan to get the association back on the straight and narrow. “The clubs are ready,” he said. “Bringing in all of these players is costing everyone a lot of money. It would benefit everyone if the thing were run straight.”
The Limerick man would tweak the existing rules governing sanctions and weekend players and possibly limit the number of players eligible for the up and down, between Junior and Senior.
O’Sullivan would like to see the maximum sanction period extended from the current 60 days to 90, allowing a club to count on a player’s services for an extra month. He would also look into shortening the season, which now runs from April through October.
“I think you could cut back on the weekenders during the season,” O’Sullivan says.
Current rules permit two weekenders per football team and three per hurling side. He would consider shaving that number by one for each team before boosting it back to existing levels for the playoffs.
O’Sullivan would also like to implement geographic divisions in the Junior Football competition.
“There are definitely enough teams for a Queens division,” he said. “The Long Island Gaels also have a field out at Hofstra and we could save teams the trouble of traveling up to the Bronx on a weeknight.”
The new division would likely include the Long Island and Brooklyn clubs also, and could utilize an available field on Randalls Island.
Like his opponent, O’Sullivan vows to tackle the issue of referees not turning up for matches, particularly those in the hinterlands.
“I would like to see the referees more involved,” he said. “We used to appoint an alternate referee and I think that is something we should go back to.”
Also on O’Sullivans to-do list, should he be given the chance, is getting the schedule back on track. It is no mean feat scheduling matches for so many clubs, but the just completed season saw the schedule makers become a lightning rod for abuse.
“I believe a hands-on approach is needed,” O’Sullivan said. “We have lost some good people over the years, hard workers that we couldn’t afford to lose, and I would like to get them back involved.”
O’Sullivan said he feels that his inclusive management style can bring them back into the fold.
The Junior Hurling Championship, which has clearly fallen on hard times, is something O’Sullivan believes needs nurturing. With only four teams competing in the group, and half of them struggling mightily in 2002, the division’s relevance has been called into question. O’Sullivan, however, sees “no reason to get rid of the Junior Hurling Championship.” We need all the hurlers we can get,” he said, “and there are some marginal hurlers who wouldn’t get a game with the Seniors.” He believes the Junior hurling competition can be improved and he is anxious to get to work on it.
With immigration having slowed the stream of players into New York to a trickle in recent years, both candidates expressed a desire to work more closely with the New York Minor Board.
O’Sullivan would like to implement a plan requiring each Senior team to carry at least one more Minor Board player. “It would be fair to each team,” he said. “The player would have to play.” This, O’Sullivan contends, “would be a great way to develop young players.”
Another idea along those lines would be a family day at Gaelic Park on the July 4 weekend. O’Sullivan would even considering canceling the games for this event. He would also like to see a skills competition, long kicks, etc. for the kids. “This could be a great introduction to the games for the kids,” O’Sullivan says.
Like his opponent, O’Sullivan is a member of the New York GAA Sports Corporation, which is trying to secure a Randalls Island home for the New York GAA.
“I am absolutely behind it,” O’Sullivan said of the project. “We are the last major city not to have our own place and it is time.”
O’Sullivan says he has encountered mostly positive reaction from the New York Irish community, but he says, “Once we sign a contract, people will take us more seriously. That day is not far off.”
O’Sullivan said he feels ready for the presidency, having served as an officer for the last five years in a variety of titles, including first vice president. He has been a delegate since 1986 and managed the New York hurlers in this year’s Championship match versus Antrim. O’Sullivan said he is determined to “bring a lot of energy an hard work” to what he intends to be an “inclusive” presidency.