Feature: The Men at the helm – GAA Presidents since the turn of the Millenium

The GAA Presidents who have served the association since the turn of the Millennium…

Seán McCague (2000-2003)
MONAGHAN legend SEÁN McCague  served as the 33rd president of the Association. Already well known for his accomplishments as manager of Scotstown and Monaghan over the course of the seventies and
eighties, he was elected to the position of president in the millennium year.

His tenure is most remembered for the removal of Rule 21, which banned members of the British security forces from playing GAA.

It was abolished despite opposition from five of the six counties in the north.

He also convinced then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to pledge 76 million Euro towards the redevelopment of Croke Park (a figure that was later reduced to 38 million Euro).

Séan Kelly (2003-2006)
SURPRISINGLY, Séan Kelly remains the only Kerry man to have held the position of GAA President. His tenure was a memorable one – it saw the introduction of the Christy Ring and Nickey Rackard Cup, Tommy Murphy Cup, and also the introduction of the popular All-Ireland Junior and Intermediate Championships. During  his tenure, the Irish Rugby team made use of Croke Park while Lansdowne Road was being developed.

Despite a considerable anti-GPA wing in the corridors of power at the time, Kelly forged a good relationship with the officially recognised player representative body for intercounty footballers and hurlers.

He is also associated with the push to increase the financing of Dublin GAA.

Nickey Brennan (2006–2009)
BRENNAN enjoyed a long and fruitful career with the Kilkenny hurlers, winning five All-Irelands between 1974 and 1985, after which he became involved with management and coaching.

He also got involved in administration and assumed the office of GAA President in 2006. There were no major changes introduced under his watch, but he was kept busy and visited Europe, the United States, Asia, Australia and the Middle East on several occasions. He also had the privilege of handing over the Liam McCarthy Cup to the captain of his native Kilkenny on an annual basis while he was in the

Christy Cooney (2009-2012)
CORK native Christy Cooney got his chance of leading the association at the second attempt (he lost to Nickey Brennan by only 17 votes at Annual Congress in 2005). The most controversial element of his presidency was his strong stance against pitch invasions, with the GAA installing a large fence in front of the Hill 16 end of Croke Park. Landmark moments during his presidency included the funeral of PSNI Officer Ronan Kerr, the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Croke Park, and the GAA’s 125th anniversary celebrations in 2009.

Liam O’Neill (2012-2015)
LIKE his predecessor, it took Laois native Liam O’Neill two attempts before he was appointed to the position. O’Neill said last year that the best decision of his presidency was selling broadcasting rights to Sky Sports in 2014. The fall-out at the time was considerable and he was grilled on RTE’s Six-One news about the deal. Still an active spokesperson for the association, this year he conducted an in-depth review of Leitrim’s GAA structures. He also called on the GAA to ‘tidy up its act’ after the brawl which blighted an otherwise thrilling All-Ireland quarter-final clash between Galway and Armagh in the summer.

Aogán Ó Fearghail (2015-2018)
CAVAN native Aogán Ó Fearghail emerged as a strong winner at the 2014 Congress, scoring twice as many votes as second-placed Sheamus Howlin from Wexford. An Irish Times assessment of his tenure said that he “presented a good image both within the association and at home and abroad.”

An articulate speaker, he said his role would be mainly an ambassadorial one, but he presided over a period of significant chagnce in the association – the divisive ‘Super Eight’ format coming into being in 2018, while there were also changes made to the structures of the All-Ireland Hurling Championships.

John Horan (2018-2021)
DUBLIN native John Horan assumed the role in 2018, and a significant moment in his tenure occurred in a special congress in 2019 where delegates voted in favour of a second-tier Gaelic Football Championship, which led to the creation of the Tailteann Cup.

The latter part of his presidency was dominated by the Covid Pandemic.

He approved the use of Croke Park as a Covid-19 testing centre, while supporters were also unable
to attend the 2020 All-Ireland finals.

He also supported a new programme schedule that proposed a separate window for club fixtures, commonly referred to as the split season.

Larry McCarthy (2021-)
MCCARTHY became the first overseas president when elected to the role in February 2020. A native of Cork, he is a member of the Sligo football club in New York, and he served on the Central Council for three years before being appointed to the role of President, narrowly defeating Armagh legend Jarlath Burns.

He’s faced a few controversies during his reign – the decision to play the All-Ireland finals in July continues to divide opinion but he says there won’t be any change in 2023, while the split season continues to divide opinion. McCarthy is also a vocal advocate of ending abuse against referees.

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