If you asked the players to decide there is no doubt but that almost 100 per cent would vote for change. But it’s delegates who will decide, not the players or the media.
The GAA is a great organization that touches the heart of Irish life. But it takes a huge mood swing, two thirds of the delegates, to change the association’s rules. In 1971 the infamous ban on foreign games was lifted at Congress in Belfast.
Then three years ago the ban on RUC members joining the association was finally lifted. Now comes the last piece of the jigsaw, Rule 42. Some motions will call for a change in Rule 42, while others will be proposing that control of Croke Park be given over to Central Council, which would clear the way for that body to decide. GAA President Sean Kelly has said that a two-thirds majority will be needed. But Kelly is a smart man and on the day the president decides what is and what is not debated at Congress. He probably could argue that a simple majority would do, but there would probably be uproar if he did.
In recent weeks many county boards have changed their mind about Rule 42 and ultimately it may be down to the overseas vote (Europe, New York [which has already said no], North America, Canada and Australia, who between them have a voting bloc of 56 votes). The British vote, which was missing in 2001 because of the Foot and Mouth epidemic in Britain, is almost a big as the province of Connacht.
But of course, Congress will not be all about Rule 42 and various other rules will be debated. And we will know who will replace Sean Kelly as president in 12 months. The two candidates for president-elect are Kilkenny’s Nicky Brennan and Christy Cooney from Cork, with Cooney probably the favorite.
As regards playing rules, the only changes likely to be adopted are the pick-up off the ground and the use of a divot for kick-outs.
The semifinals of the National Football League will be played on Sunday. Wexford, the surprise team of the competition, will meet Tyrone in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, while the meeting of Mayo and Armagh goes ahead at Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon. Both of the Div. 2 semifinals will also be played on Sunday as part of a doubleheader at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Derry meet Monaghan and Meath face Fermanagh. So we have five of the eight teams in the division one and division two semifinals of the League from Ulster. And next year seven of the nine Ulster counties will be playing their football in the top flight, proof, if proof were needed, of how strong gaelic football is in the province.
WALSH AIMS FOR
Irish jockey Ruby Walsh, who rode Hedgehunter to victory in the Aintree Grand National last Saturday, will be bidding for a unique fourth national win in the same year when he rides Cornish Rebel for trainer Paul Nicholls at Ayr in the Scottish Grand National on Saturday. Walsh, the son of well-known Kildare trainer Ted Walsh, has already ridden Numbersixvalderde to victory in the Irish Grand National and Silver Birch to win the Welsh Grand National.
GOLD TO PESSOA
Cian O’Connor said last week that he was not going to appeal the International Equestrian Federation decision to strip him of his gold medal from last year’s Athens Olympics.
“It would perhaps be possible to retain the gold medal by appealing,” O’Connor said. “However, in the best interests of the sport and to avoid further controversy, I have decided to accept the FEI decision.”
The gold medal now goes to Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa.
Meanwhile, O’Connor, who began his three-month ban on Monday, came first the day before on ABC Landliebe at the Italian Toscana Gold Tour in Arezzo.
The weekend after Easter was a disappointing one for Irish rugby with Leinster and Ulster both going out of the Heineken Cup at the quarterfinal stage. Leinster were hammered by Leicester, while Munster showed a bit more heart going down to Biarritz. Since then, Leinster have lost coach Declan Kidney who has returned to coach Munster. In addition, outhalf David Howell is going back to New Zealand at the end of the season, Shane Jennings is moving to Leicester and Victor Costello is retiring. And the rumor last week was that Irish international Gordon D’Arcy was going to follow coach Kidney to Munster.
OPENS IN BELGIUM
Irish cyclists trying to pursue a professional career in Europe now have a house to drop into. The Sean Kelly Cycling Academy in Mertchen, Belgium, was opened last week. Irish cyclists have used the house for the last two seasons. But under the new scheme, the Irish Cycling Federation will provide greater support for the riders such as physiological testing and coaching. Already three Irish riders: Ciaran Kelly, Philip Deignan and David O’Loughin use the base. Costs of the Academy will be subsided by Cycling Ireland and the Irish Sports Council.
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LINFIELD HONOR POPE
The times they are certainly a changing. Linfield, traditionally a strong Protestant club, played their first game in the Republic in almost 20 years when they went down 2-1 to Longford in the Setanta Cup, a new competition for clubs from North and South. The game in Longford went ahead two days after the death of Pope John Paul II and significantly the Linfield and Longford players both wore black armbands. Now Longford wearing black armbands was no surprise, but to see a club like Linfield do so really gives one hope for the future of this island. After the game Linfield manager Derek Jeffrey was full of praise for the reception they received in Longford. ‘We were treated like kings down here,’ he said. One twist in the tale, Longford’s first goal was scored by Stephen Paisley
SIGH OF RELIEF
It’s funny that what may appear to be a trivial matter to most soccer supporters matters very much to fans in Glasgow. For almost a century, supporters of Glasgow Celtic have lived with the galling knowledge that Celtic Park, the stadium they like to call “Paradise,” was designed by a Rangers supporter. It was thought that Celtic Park was the work of architect Archibald Leitch, who designed early stadiums for some of Britain’s top clubs, including Glasgow Rangers in 1910. But now Simon Inglis, a writer who specializes in football grounds, has uncovered documents that reveal that this is nothing more than a popular myth. Inglis has found drawings that prove that the former south stand in Celtic Park was built in 1928, to the design of Leitch’s former employee, David Mills Duncan. Inglis said Duncan’s design was certainly inspired by Leitch, which explains the historical error repeated throughout football history.
Leitch, a working class Protestant, was reared in the Gallowgate area of Glasgow. His first football stadium design was for Rangers in 1899 and as a fan, he waived his