The five-way battle for the 39th presidency of the GAA will be decided at 2017 Congress in Croke Park on February 25. Peter O’Connell spoke to Clare candidate Robert Frost about his vision for the role if he wins.
POC: Are you enjoying the election battle?
RF: I’ve fought many a campaign and this is the toughest campaign I’ve fought. I’m enjoying it and it’s a great honour to to be even nominated for the position. I’ve been involved in the GAA all my life. I was secretary of my own club, O’Callaghan’s Mills, at 17 years of age. I was involved in the Clare County Board and Munster Council, so the natural progression for me was to contest the presidency. When your opportunity comes, you take your opportunity.
POC: You have been a GAA administrator for almost 50 years!
RF: Near enough. I was secretary of my club for 10 years in the 1970s. Then I got involved in the hurling board in Clare. I was vice-chairman of the county board and I took over as chairman in 1994. I was in Munster Council for 12 years, five as Clare delegate, three as vice-chairman and three as chairman. I’m just finished my last 12-month as ex-officio chairman. I feel I have a good chance. I’m an experienced official of the GAA, so I’ll stand on my record. I have travelled the country and I have travelled overseas campaigning.
POC: What are your aims if you win?
RF: The big one at the moment is club fixtures. The club players have to be looked after. I honestly believe that having the All-Irelands done and dusted earlier would give a window of opportunity to club players. Lets face it, every team isn’t going to be involved in the All-Ireland semi-final or finals. You have August, September, October and November to play club matches. There is the most of five months there to play matches and I think club players deserve that. Every club player should at least get 20 club matches during the year. I think moving the All-Ireland finals to two weeks earlier would help. I’d also be in favour of having the club championships finished in the one calendar year.
POC: Counties have proven that they cannot fix regular championship games during the peak summer months. Should games be fixed at a national level?
RF: There is a rule that provincial councils can oversee the fixtures in their areas but it’s very loose and the provincial councils have no great authority. They can bring in county boards and say ‘play this and play that’ but the county boards go back and do what they want to do. I think there should be some overseeing body to make sure the county boards are following the correct procedures.
POC: When you were Munster Council chairman, you brought in the Clare County Board to address fixtures issues in this county?
RF: All we could do was bring them in and recommend but, at the end of the day, they went home and did whatever they wanted to do.
POC: You were chairman of the Clare County Board when club fixtures were delayed annually in the 1990s. It looked as if Ger Loughnane dictated to Clare County Board when club fixtures could be played?
RF: I was the person who appointed Ger Loughnane. At the time, we had a very bad record. We were after being beaten in two or three Munster finals. It was desperation. When we did win the Munster final, everybody was happy. I have to be fair, we did call off the club fixtures and the county board was in favour of doing it. We did call county board meetings. We hadn’t won an All-Ireland since 1914. We won two All-Irelands and three Munster championships. At the time, we were making the breakthrough but things have changed since. That was 22 years ago. It was the thing to do at the time. Other counties followed suit as well. There was broad agreement within the county. The clubs backed it. It was a new beginning.
POC: Have county managers too much say over club fixtures?
RF: I think it’s up to every county. But you have to have your club fixtures in tandem with county games. Maybe for league matches, you can’t have all your inter-county players playing but for the majority of club matches, they should be able to play. A player can get injured at training the very same as he can playing with his club.
POC: Why are there two Munster candidates for the position, yourself and Seán Walsh [Kerry]?
RF: He’s entitled to go if he wants to go. As the outgoing chairman of Munster Council, if I didn’t go this time, my opportunity would have gone. Whatever other people want to do, that’s their own decision.
POC: When you were Munster Council chairman, Munster senior football championship seedings was an issue in 2013?
RF: Ah, leave that out. I’m not talking about that.
POC: But it was one of the main issues during your time as chairman?
RF: No, I’m not talking about that.
POC: I have to ask you about it.
RF: No, I’ll forget about it then. I’m not going down that road. I’m not going to talk about anything controversial. I’m not getting involved.
POC: I’ll just have to say you wouldn’t talk about it so.
RF: Nobody else asked me about that. I’m here to try and win the presidency. I’m not here to get into any controversy. I think you’re being unfair to me. There is no need to bring that up. It wasn’t brought up at national level or anywhere else. I’d appeal to you to leave that out.
POC: If you do win the presidency, what else will you look to achieve, along with looking at club fixtures?
RF: The decline of the rural club is a major issue. If you look at the situation in rural Ireland, only for the GAA club, there is nothing else left there. A lot of the GAA clubs in rural Ireland are struggling. In some instances, there is nothing you can do because of the decline in population. Clubs will have to come together for underage but I would like to see every club holding their own identity either at senior, intermediate or rural level. If we lose the clubs in rural Ireland, we’re going to lose rural Ireland.
POC: What are your views on Ireland possibly hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup and using GAA stadiums for matches?
RF: I’d have no problem with that if it’s generating more finance for the GAA. If we get more money for the clubs and the counties in the GAA, I have no problem whatsoever with that.
POC: Do you still work in the car industry?
RF: I’m a self-employed businessman. I have a lot of experience in business and I have a lot of experience in the GAA. I know exactly what to expect. I come from a big GAA background and I bring a lot of experience to the table.
POC: On reflection, do you want to add anything to the Munster seedings issue we were talking about earlier?
RF: In 2013, a motion came in from another county in Munster that we’d have a seeded draw in the Munster championship. It was passed by Munster Council. I believe it helped the weaker counties because Clare are in Division 2 at the moment, Tipperary are in Division 3. Waterford and Limerick have upped their ante and I think we’re going to have a better Munster championship. It was only for one year and one year only.