Incoming GAA president Larry McCarthy believes that the association, on some levels, is becoming obsessed with the elite end of the game and is determined not to allow the lower levels to be left behind.

Inter-county players make up just 2% of the playing population and McCarthy, who will take over from John Horan as Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael next year, says he can see red flags about the current direction of the organisation.

McCarthy, who is based in New York, will become the first overseas president of the association next year and intends to see out his three-year tenure in Ireland.

And the Cork native says there are lessons to be learned, not only from what he sees first hand in America across a range of sports, but also from how the advent of professional rugby has affected club rugby in Ireland. 

The days of seeing Ireland internationals lining out for their affiliated clubs are now, barring exceptional cases, over. 

The knock-on effects of this and the tendency of the academies to limit club game-time has seen attendances drop for the grassroots clubs of the sport.

"We are becoming like America, where if you are not 'numero uno' you don’t count," McCarthy, speaking on the GAA's Hurling Around The World webinar, said.

"The whole system [in USA] is geared towards producing the best elite athletes... and that’s a dangerous thing in the context of club participation.

"The whole sports culture of the US is ‘get us [to number one]’.

"And we would seem to be moving that way in terms of the GAA at some level, that the obsession is with [becoming number one], and getting to Croke Park on our two high holy days [for All-Ireland SFC and SHC finals].

"There is a tendency then to ignore the 98%, which is not good, no matter what way we look at it.

"At some level we are becoming globalised and obsessed with seeing the elite.

"It has happened in rugby. Rugby has gone to this sports-entertainment model, which has not done the rugby clubs, I would suggest, in Ireland, very much good, in general, in participation in the sport, and we don’t want to go there.

"We couldn’t go there, that’s not us. And we won’t go there. We have to make sure we take care of the second and third and the fourth levels, that 98%." 

Sligo celebrate winning the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2019

Also on the webinar panel was Connacht hurling games manager Damien Coleman, who brought up the subject of trying to promote the sport in the weaker counties.

He suggested organising teams and competitions based on geography, "cross-county, cross-border", citing Sligo, Leitrim, Longford and Louth as an example of a cluster to be developed.

On this, McCarthy said: "The rule book can be thrown out, forget the rule book.

"Forget the rule book in terms of structures and giving people games.

"That great Cork philosopher, [Cork U20 football manager] Keith Ricken said 'games, grub and gear'. 

"And if we can take care of the games, grub and gear, we’ll be fine as an organisation.

"But don’t let’s be restricted by the rule book, for God’s sake. Forget the official guide, and I mean that in the best sense of the word.

"We’ve been restricted by the tome that is called the Treoraí Oifigiúil [GAA official guide].

"Create competitions that work for kids and give them games." 

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