Jarlath Burns will be the first GAA President from the North since Fermanagh’s Peter Quinn. Katrina Brennan catches up with the 31st President…
WHEN Peter Quinn received his badge of office in April 1991, at the age of 47, there was much anticipation that he would be a visionary for the Gaelic Athletic Association.
The Teemore man was the 31st President of the GAA and almost a fortnight ago, Jarlath Burns was elected the 41st President. Burns becomes the first person from the North to hold the office since Quinn and like the Fermanagh man, there is great anticipation and excitement around his appointment.
“I think he is someone who has the potential to make a major contribution to the development of the GAA” said Quinn.
“I don’t think he’ll be afraid to address issues or anything like that. If he thinks something needs to be changed, I have no doubt he’ll set about changing it and he’ll succeed.”
It’s a big endorsement from the man who made such an indelible mark during his three-year tenure between 1991 and 1994.
“I’ve known Jarlath a long time,” recalled Quinn. “He’s been a very staunch, solid, GAA man, even when he was playing.
“When he was playing there was more to him than just a player, he always had a interest in the administration of the organisation and probably a little bit more of a vision for the GAA than the average player would have, because he was interested in its development on a series of dimensions.
“Most don’t get involved in administration until their playing career is over, he got involved in administration before his playing career was over. He should be well prepared now to do a good job for the Association.”
What determines a good job remains to be seen but Burns is a proven leader. A former Ulster winning captain with Armagh in ‘99, former chairman and current secretary of his club Silverbridge, Principal of St Paul’s in Bessbrook, he has also hed numerous administrative roles in the GAA’s corridors of power.
“I think that Jarlath is a man for his time. I think it’s good for the GAA to have a man like Jarlath coming in at this time, he’ll make a difference, I’ve no doubt about that.”
One issue that Quinn and Burns are steadfast in their agreement on is the issue of amateurism in the GAA.
“One hundred per cent (agree with him)” said the former President.
“It’s good to see a guy who is as convinced about it as he is, being in the position where he can influence whether or not we change our rules. I have no doubt he will not be for changing the amateur status.
“The players have been giving on a voluntary basis for a lot more than a century and very few of them have ever complained about that. In fact, the complaints don’t tend to come from the players, they tend to come from other sources.
“I have never had a player, either when I was playing or when I was managing, or when I was involved in administration, come to me and say that the players should be played, never.
“I think it’s an argument that is being advanced and obviously if the players were offered money, I’m sure they’d take it, but there aren’t too many players who are going around looking for it.”
As the furore around Burns’ election 12 days ago dies down, Quinn said there are a few feelings the Silverbridge man will be experiencing as he prepares to take up the highest office in the GAA;
“I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a feeling of pride, but pride wouldn’t be the primary feeling I would’ve thought. He would be looking at what he can do to advance the Association.
“The President can’t advance the Association on his own, or on his or her own, because there may be a female President some day too, and I wouldn’t be against that.
“Everyone who is a member of the GAA has a view on various things within the GAA and Jarlath is no different.
“There might be some things that he would think are necessary at the present time and I have absolutely no doubt that he will set about making those changes. He’ll not be afraid to try.”
Burns is the first Armagh man to be President since Clann Éireann clubman Alf Murray was elected 60 years ago, although Padraig MacNamee, an Antrim man, was born in south Armagh. Quinn points to his Orchard predecessor as being a real role model.
“If he’s as good as the first Armagh man, he’ll be very good, because the first Armagh man, Alf Murray, was a very special President.
“Not many of the current GAA members would remember Alf Murray but Alf Murray was an exceptional player for Armagh and for Ulster.
“The Railway Cup in those times was a very important competition and Alf was certainly one of the outstanding Railway Cup players of that era.
“Alf had very strong views and I suspect that most of them very strong nationalist views. I suspect that most of them would be shared by the new man and I think he’ll have the imagination to make whatever changes are necessary.
“I don’t think there are a huge amount of changes necessary but there are some that would probably be desirable and I don’t think he’ll refuse to address them.”
As the leading figure of Ireland’s largest sporting organisation, eyes are always on you and expectation is high.
Quinn, who is best remembered as the visionary behind the redevelopment of Croke Park, says the role of President is a mixed bag. When asked if it was enjoyable or stressful, he quickly replied “both”
“It depends which day it is,” he laughed. “There are days when it’s stressful and there are days when it’s enjoyable but in any event it’s not exactly a job but there are things that need to be done and they tend to take the main concentration.”
Quinn will also be remembered as the president that handed over Sam Maguire to three successive Ulster teams (Down 1991, Donegal 1992 and Derry 1993). A period of success never known before or since in Ulster.
“I think I was a bit lucky in that respect” he quipped, “Not every President from Ulster can assume that he’d be handing the trophy over to three Ulster counties during his term of office.
“I would hope that he would be, and I don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of possibility, but by the same token, I wouldn’t be putting a lot of money on it.”
So, in 12 months’ time Burns will embark on his presidency and if the early signs are anything to go by, he’ll make a difference.