Burns takes office looking to soccer for solutions to curb intercounty spending

The GAA’s new president seeks a review of amateur status, including the prospect of licensing teams to compete

The presidency of Jarlath Burns hit the ground running on Saturday.

At the conclusion of this year’s GAA congress in Newry’s Canal Court Hotel, he faced his first press conference in office and reeled off priorities and the committees he had installed to address them.

Most ambitious perhaps is the amateur status committee, which is to be tasked with proposing “significant changes” to how county teams are budgeted. Expenditure on intercounty activity has become a pressing concern with costs rising annually and hitting an estimated €40 million for last year.

The new president believes that financial oversight, as operates in soccer, could be the solution to the problem.


“It will be [difficult] because, at the moment, we are the only sport in the world that doesn’t have a licensing system, which you need to adhere to in order to compete.

“If you look even to the Premier League, you see Everton lost 10 points because they were beyond their financial ceiling; Chelsea are afraid to sack their manager because if they do, they will have to pay out his contract and then they’ll have to get someone else and tip them beyond this threshold.

“We don’t have that and we should more than any of those have a financial ceiling. If you look at [Munster CEO] Kieran Leddy’s report, [Connacht CEO] John Prenty’s report, they about talk about the importance of having some sort of financial ceiling.

“I think one of the things we have to do in terms of governance, audit and risk, we should have a certain amount of governance, principles which you adhere to within your county in terms of your accounting and modus operandi before you can get a licence to compete.”

Burns added that a fair bit of work had already been done on this issue by Feargal McGill, the GAA’s director of games administration, during the presidency of John Horan but that Covid had intervened.

He added that any problematic or out of control spending would come under the same heading and impact on a county’s entitlement to compete. Neither was he concerned about wealthy benefactors being able to subvert controls, pointing out that it was increasingly difficult to hide expenditure through cash transactions.

“I am not going to adhere to the ‘we couldn’t even find the table’. The table is a lot easier to find now, the world has changed significantly and I say that having been born and reared in a cash economy in south Armagh.”

This was a reference to Peter Quinn, former president and chair of the last amateur status committee, which reported in 1997, and his response to queries about ‘under the table’ payments.

Asked was it possible to impact on this phenomenon or now simply too late given the ubiquitous metaphor of a runaway train.

“I think that would be a counsel of despair if we were to approach it from that angle. I don’t think we have a choice here. There is nobody really to blame here, but everybody is to blame.

“If you’re in a high-performance culture you’ll do everything you can to try and get one over your opponents. We have to be adults in the room here, we have to be the people who are leading.”

To that end he has appointed David Hassan to chair the committee. Professor of Sport Policy and Management at Ulster University and a leading researcher on a range of academic subjects relating to sport, Hassan has spent six gruelling years heading the standing committee on playing rules. This latest brief may turn that previous experience into a warm memory.

Maintaining that county panels are too large, Burns also wants to engage with the Gaelic Players Association who he sees as integral to addressing the situation.

“The key people here are the GPA, because the GPA have been telling us for years that there is an intolerable cardiovascular load on our county players, who all have to go to work in the morning and it’s impacting them.

“Forget about the costs. All the ESRI reports are telling us that as well. The GPA are the players’ union and I will work very closely with Tom Parsons [CEO of the players group].

“I have met Tom on a number of occasions, Tom and the GPA are totally behind us on this.

“They can be the key here because, like in amateur college sport in America where they have officers in every college making sure that the amateur status is being adhered to, we don’t have those oversight officers, and I think the GPA can do that for us.”

Burns received his medal of office from outgoing president Larry McCarthy on Saturday. It was as usual on such days an opportunity for family and friends to celebrate as well as Armagh GAA and the president’s club Silverbridge, “the place more than most that formed me”.

He won’t want for advice on the lot of county players, as his son Jarly Óg, an All Star nominee plays for Armagh and son-in-law Wexford’s Dee O’Keeffe, married to the president’s daughter Megan, is a hurling All Star.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times