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22 May 2022

County Board Chairperson Albert Cooney sets out some of his ambitions for Longford GAA

Address to the annual Convention from the Rathcline clubman

longford gaa

Longford GAA Chairperson Albert Cooney (Rathcline), returned unopposed for a third term in the top position Photo: Syl Healy

Longford GAA Chairperson Albert Cooney, in his address to the annual Convention which was conducted via zoom on Thursday night last, stated that “it was a challenging year for the executive, but I enjoyed working with all of you.”

The Rathcline clubman also set out some of his ambitions for the year ahead. He announced that he intended to set up a “Strategic Review Committee” early in 2022, with the intention of looking at a way forward for Longford GAA over the next five years.

He also stated his intention that Longford GAA would appoint a “permanent strength and conditioning coach”, who would work at all age levels.

Cooney also stated that a “Centre of Excellence project” needed to be looked at in the new year.

“We need to make moves towards finding a site. At present, we are heavily reliant on clubs for training facilities,” he commented.

He also took time to remember all GAA members in the county that had passed in the last couple of years.

Because of Covid putting restrictions on normal funeral ceremonies, he stated that “hopefully this time next year, we would have a mass in St Mel’s Cathedral in memory of deceased members.”

He welcomed the new officers (PRO Gerry Forde and Irish Language & Cultural Officer Lorraine Corrigan) and remarked that he was “sad to see Tommy McLoughlin go.”

He also thanked Lorraine McDonnell, “the hard-working secretary in the office.”

Cooney concluded his address by saying that “Longford GAA is in a very healthy situation.”

Chairperson’s Address in full:  

‘Ladies and gentlemen, you are all very welcome tonight as we participate in Longford Annual Convention 2021. We regret very much that we cannot have our meeting in person, but due to Covid restrictions and concern for the health and wellbeing of all delegates attending, our only option was the use of online platform once again for delivery of the Convention 2021 agenda.

‘Following the Covid related chaos of 2020, we returned to a form of normality in 2021, successfully completing all competitions, intercounty, club and all underage grades with little or no Covid issues.

‘On behalf of Longford GAA, I wish to thank all clubs, team management, and players for their co-operation and management of Covid protocols during the season, all of which assisted with the successful management and completion of fixtures.

‘As we did not have an opportunity to defend our 2020 O’Byrne Cup title, our inter-county competitive season commenced with National League competitions both in football and hurling.

‘The structure of the National football league 2021 was modified to reduce travel distance for teams by splitting the four divisions into two groups geographically based North and South. This system placed a handicap on Longford as we were unlucky to be grouped. with the three stronger teams of the division. 

‘Having commenced the campaign with a heavy defeat to Derry at Pearse Park, followed by an improved performance against Cavan which ended in another loss by 6 pts. The Longford players rallied together with a further improved performance in Brewster Park, Enniskillen, and succeeded in coming away with a draw. 

‘Having only secured one point from three games we were now faced with the prospect of fighting relegation. We were lucky to be drawn against a very formidable Tipperary at home in Glennon brothers, Pearse Park. The big challenge was to retain our Division Three status for a seventh successive year, and the Longford team met that challenge head on, beating Tipperary by seven points. In their best performance of the year. We congratulate all players and team management for this achievement.

‘The Senior Leinster Championship campaign commenced with an away game to Carlow which Longford won by 6 points, followed by a heavy defeat to Meath in Navan. This was a heart-breaking defeat for Longford as our performances had improved with each game and a defeat of this nature was not expected.

‘However, Longford footballers are strong and resilient and will bounce back in 2022 and we thank all of the players for their commitment and efforts throughout the year.

‘There was further bad news following that game as the manager Padraig Davis and his backroom team announced their retirement and would not be available for the 2022 season. As Padraig had just expanded his business, Davis Auctioneering, with the opening of new offices at Main St. Longford, he was no longer in a position to manage football teams, and he needed to dedicate his time to his business and family. Padraig has been a fantastic ambassador for Longford GAA all his life, both as a highly respected player and manager, and I know that you all join with me wishing him, his wife and family, success in business and all the best for the future. 

‘We must also bestow the same gratitude to two other Longford stalwarts, Paul Barden and Donal Ledwith. Both guys have given exceptional service to Longford GAA all their lives and as they are both extremely busy in a private capacity, I trust that everybody appreciates the efforts they made working with Padraig to reach the goals they had set. Donal had the added responsibility of managing the U-20 team.

‘To the remaining members of management, John Donnellan, Gavan Tonra, Kate McDaid, Miranda Moran and Danny O’Toole, thank you for your work and efforts for the last few years and I really enjoyed working with you all and look forward to meeting you in the future.

‘We have  announced our new management team for 2020. Billy O’Loughlin from Laois have been appointed team manager, assisted by Michael Hannon (former Cavan footballer) and Paul Brady(international handball champion) from Cavan, Aidan Kilcoyne, (former Mayo footballer), Daniel Doherty S&C coach from Tyrone, Clodagh Gray, Chartered Physio, Longford. 

‘Two selectors from the county remain to be appointed soon  and I would like any assistance from the clubs with these appointments. We wish all of them a very successful season in 2022 as they met with the players for their first training session on Friday night last. 

‘Our senior hurling team had a mixed season commencing with their National League campaign in an away game to Armagh which was lost by 12 points. The following game was at home to Tyrone in an exciting and very competitive game resulting in a thrilling draw. The third game was a loss to Sligo, and similar to our footballers, our hurlers were fighting relegation in the next encounter against Monaghan. At home in Glennon Brothers, Pearse Park, Longford were confident of a win, but alas it ended in a one point defeat and return to the lower division for next year.

‘Success followed in the Lory Meagher Cup Championship with a comprehensive win over Louth, a draw with Monaghan and reaching the semi-final of the competition. Another home game and hopes were high, But the opponents Fermanagh were up to the task on the day and secured a 4 point winning margin, thus ending Longford hurling season. 

‘Following the end of season, Manager Derek Frehill and his management team, Rob Nolan, Alan Wade, and Paul Hession announced their retirement. On behalf of Longford GAA, I thank each one of them for their commitment and dedication to the cause of Longford hurling and its sustainability over the last few years. We wish them and their families all the best in the future.

‘This year Longford Hurling management committee under the guidance of Derek Fahy and Carol Murray, Longford GAA assembled an U-17 hurling squad. It has been some time since Longford GAA  competed at underage level in hurling, and this venture is the first step on the way to reaching a sustainable level of resources to keep hurling alive in the county. The senior management, Derek Frehill & Co, offered their services in creating a squad and managing them as they competed in the Celtic challenge.

‘It was a successful venture as they beat Monaghan & Meath Royals, reaching the final to be narrowly beaten by Armagh. Six of that squad have now been drafted into the senior squad for the upcoming season and we wish them well in their quests. Well done to Hurling Chairperson Derek Fahy and Secretary Carol Murray for their initiative with this project and I thank both of them for organising and managing all of the hurling section, both senior and underage this year. Well done to both of you.

‘The U-20 Leinster Football Championship football season was reasonably successful starting with an away win against Louth and next up were neighbours Westmeath in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park. In what was an enthralling encounter and an exhibition of true grit and determination, neither side would give way and the game went to extra-time and penalty shoot out.

‘Westmeath were the victors on the night and a heart-breaking defeat for the Longford players, especially the management team of Donal Ledwith, Paul O’Brien, and Fintan Fox. They had put endless hours of preparation and planning into this team and along with physio Noel Murphy, nutritionist Clare Farrell and they were all very professional in all aspects of the managing of the team. On behalf of Longford GAA, I thank each one of them sincerely and wish them all the best. We will announce a new management U-20 team soon following the completion of the senior team management group.

‘Due to Covid restrictions, there was very little activity for our County U-17 squad. They played one Leinster Minor Championship match against Kildare in Newbridge, losing by 7 points. The losing margin does not reflect the performance of a very young U-17 Longford team. They were unfortunate as they missed three goal chances and Kildare were lucky with some of their efforts.

‘I would like to take this opportunity to thank Gareth Johnston and all of his management team for their professional approach and enthusiasm towards the U-17 team throughout the year and we are delighted to announce that they all remain in place for the coming season. I would also like to thank all of the parents and families who assisted with travel and dedicated some of their time assisting with this team.

‘Following my election as Chairperson in December 2019, I had promised to have a full review of adult competitions both league and championship, but due to Covid restrictions that project did not get off the ground and was delayed until January of this year. At the beginning of this year the Review Committee, chaired by Patrick Maguire and committee members Martin Skelly, John Greene, Mel Clarke and Michael Lynch met a number  of times and put forward a number  of proposals for restructure of all Championship and League competitions which were adopted by County Committee and enforced.

‘Initially there were some concerns surrounding the feasibility of managing the fixture calendar and completing all games, but we did succeed and the adult club season, despite a shorter window because of Covid, was fully completed.

‘There were some issues that will need further examination and adjustment, particularly the Intermediate Championship and second teams from the four strong clubs. We had controversy surrounding the ineligibility of county players to participate in a number  of rounds of the league following the county team ending their season. This situation occurred because of the condensed season and late start to the league campaign.

‘If all things are normal in 2022 this situation will not arise if we continue with the same format of league games without county players. Overall the restructure was very successful, plenty of competitive football, increase in supporter attendance, and very competitive championship games. The Review Committee will re-convene early in the New Year to review all competitions once again, and we will request from clubs their input to changes that they would like to see place. Notice will be sent to clubs in due course and prior to the review meeting. 

‘One of the more noticeable and disappointing issues that arose during the season were the amount of games conceded. While some of those situations may not have been avoidable, I am sure most of those games could have been played and should have been. Management are going to review conceding of games and consider heavier penalties if this trend were to continue in the future

‘It was a difficult year for fixture planning as 2020 Senior, Intermediate and Junior football championships were included for completion in the schedule, While it was disappointing that the Junior final did not take place, the Senior and intermediate Finals were very entertaining with Killoe Emmet Og and St. Brigid’s Killashee being victorious. We congratulate them both on their victories.

‘It has been a fantastic year for Mullinalaghta St Columba’s as they completed a treble, winning all three of the main senior competitions, ie Championship, Division 1  League and Leader Cup. While it was disappointing to lose in the opening round of the Leinster Club Championship, securing the treble win should in some way go towards alleviating that disappointment. 

‘St Brigid’s Killashee defended their 2020 Intermediate title in style by beating Ballymahon and securing the Gerry Hennessy cup for a second year in a row. Legan Sarsfields and Ballymore competed in a most entertaining and competitive Junior Final attended by a very large crowd. Legan were victorious on the day, winning the Junior Cup for the first time since 2012.

‘Congratulations to all of the winning finalists and well done to all clubs who participated throughout the year in all competitions. Thank you for all your co-operation and assistance in playing the games. Many thanks to all the clubs who made their facilities available for the preliminary rounds of the championship competitions, training facilities for county teams, both adult and underage. We are deeply indebted to you all, without your assistance we could not succeed. Thank you all very much.

‘Underage structures in our county is very strong and making steady progress all the time under the leadership of Gary Toher as Chairperson, Coiste na nOg; Secretary, Tommy McLoughlin, Coaching Officer Finbar Meehan, and staff Damien Sheridan, Paddy O’Connor, Eoin Devine,  Ciaran O Eochaidh and hurling coach Seamus Hughes. We thank you all for your extreme hard work and dedication. 

'Coiste na Og, similar to the adult section, introduced a revised competition structure for all underage teams with competitions available to every age group. In the main it was very successful, but will need further review and tweaking especially for 17 to 20 year olds. We have motions before the Convention requesting a return to U-18 competitions. 

‘This issue has been the focus of considerable debate across the whole island since it was first proposed some years ago and there were some very good reasons for its introduction and proposal at congress. There were a lot of concerns expressed at the time as well, principally the gap between U-17 and senior grade. We have had a one year trial of this structure, and while it was not an ideal year, it has been proved that there is some merit in re-visiting this issue and having another debate. We must ensure that all of our underage players have access to competitive football at their level of ability, and if not we will lose those individuals to our competing organisations.

‘Well done to all of our referees in 2020. It was a tough year for them as there was an increased no. of games and the no. of referees available continued to dwindle. There has been a concern around this issue for a number of years and we really do need the assistance from our clubs to provide personnel for training. You as clubs must realise that we cannot continue to provide and manage games unless we have the required number of officials to provide the necessary service. So the onus is on clubs to solve this issue in conjunction with our referees committee. We have a number of people ready to begin training shortly, but this is not enough for the years ahead.

‘We wish to thank all of the referees for all of their services dispensed to Longford GAA throughout the year. It is a tough job and we congratulate you all on your professional approach and attitude in carrying out your duties. Many thanks to Referees Administrator Ken Leonard for his time and dedication in his role for the first half of the year. As Ken was always keen to get back on the pitch, it was his desire to do so when he returned to full fitness, and thus he stepped away from his role and is now back as a referee. Thank you Ken. Derek Nolan of the Clonguish club was appointed to the vacant position and we thank Derek for his dedication and hard work so far. Well done to both of you.

‘Many thanks to the volunteer members of our Hearing and CCC committees. Hearings chaired by Michelle Dolan, secretary Cataldus Harton, and members Ciaran Collins, Seamus Maher, Eamon Reilly and George McDermott. CCC Chaired by Ciaran Walsh, secretary Peter O'Reilly, members Gerry Sheahan, Adrian Flynn, Michael Mulleady, Marie Keenan, Joe Rooney, and John Greene. We thank you all for your voluntary time and in what can be sometimes a difficult and tedious job.

‘Our annual accounts report details a very healthy and positive financial position, indicating a surplus of €208k after depreciation. This is very positive news for the organisation and we must thank Club Longford for the big part they play in this turnaround. Chairperson, Mark Connellan and his team have played a huge role in helping Longford GAA raise finance this year. Along with members of Longford County Board, they managed the hugely successful car draw and golf classic which generated large income and which will be detailed by Treasurer John Finn who will also give a presentation on other means of support that they will provide to Longford GAA, such as sponsorship of our development squads, something which was never provided before, supply of gym equipment etc. 

‘Longford GAA are extremely grateful for the support and active assistance we have received from the Club Longford committee and we look forward to working together over the coming years to further improve our fortunes. Well done to all the clubs who sold all their allocated tickets and some clubs went beyond their allocation. We were very conscious of approaching the clubs in difficult times with tickets for fundraising, but all clubs met the task with vigour and helped make the draw the success it was, and without this help it would not have worked. Thank you very much one and all.

‘Many thanks to all my colleagues on the executive, we have had another challenging year, plenty of hot debate and issues, but we had the odd laugh along the way and I enjoyed working with you all.

'We lose PRO Tommy McLoughlin after many years of service on management. I thank you very much for your hard work and dedication. You were an absolute gentleman to work with and we will be sad to see you go. Replacing Tom will be Gerry Forde from the Ardagh Moydow club and I am certain he will continue with the same work ethic that Tom has demonstrated. 

‘As Derek Fahy had to step away as Leinster Council delegate following five years of excellent service in that position, Eamon Brennan, having completed the five year term as Irish Officer, takes up his new role as replacement for Derek, ie Leinster Council delegate. Replacing Eamon is Lorainne Corrigan from Fr. Manning Club. We welcome both Gerry and Lorainne to the executive and we all look forward to working with you over the next year. We thank both Derek and Eamon for their contribution and assistance during their five year term. Well done to both of you.

‘Following my election as Chairperson in December 2019, there were a number of projects which I had planned to research and explore. Covid arrived on our shores in February 2020 and those plans were delayed for what I thought would be short term. Now almost two years later, I think I can revisit those ideas and maybe start planning for the betterment of our youth long into the future in Longford GAA.

‘In the first quarter of 2022, I will establish a working group that will review the current position of Longford GAA relative to all other counties, what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, and how can we help all interested stakeholders achieve their very best to benefit both themselves and the organisation within the county. From the research and analysis carried out by this working group, they will then create a pathway and vision for the future of Longford GAA well into the future.

‘As modern day football evolves and becomes more competitive with higher standards of training techniques, it is the duty of Longford GAA to provide the best possible facilities for training and match preparation to all of our underage and adult footballers in the years to come. Over the course of the next year, we will put plans in place to secure a site and funding for a facility that will provide the very best facilities for our young footballers to assist them with enhancing their strength, conditioning, and skills, allowing them to compete to the highest standards possible. It may take three years, maybe five years or even longer for the clubs and members of Longford GAA to have a facility they can be proud of, but we must put a plan in place now to begin that process, otherwise we are going nowhere.

‘During the first quarter of 2022, we will begin a recruitment process for the appointment of a full time strength and conditioning coach. This person will work with all development and underage squads right up to adult level, implementing player physical and personal development as they progress through the various age grades. Some counties have taken this approach already, and it is becoming obvious that players who have participated in those type of programmes are much better prepared physically for senior inter-county football when they arrive on the scene. Club Longford have already committed some funding for this initiative and I wish to thank them for their support.

‘As we leave 2021, it has been a very positive year in general, having completed a full programme of club and inter-county competitions and a very positive financial report for year end. None of this could be achieved without the dedication and hard work of all the volunteers active in our organisation in Longford.

‘I thank each one of you very much and for your time dispensed to the cause of the success of Longford GAA. We must also remember all of the members who have passed to their eternal reward during 2021, some of whom dedicated their whole lives to GAA, both on the pitch and off it. We must remember them and thank them for their legacy of a great and unique sporting organisation. We have lost a lot of members over the last two years and as we were not allowed to pay our respects properly because of Covid restrictions, it is my desire that we would have a memorial service in their honour sometime in 2022, depending on Covid restrictions.

‘Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and Happy New Year and looking forward to working with you all in 2022.’

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