TWO years after sweeping to power, the Saffron Vision movement will face a real test of their leadership at Monday night’s Antrim GAA convention with both chairman Collie Donnelly and vice-chair Terry Reilly being challenged for their respective positions.
In 2015, Saffron Vision candidates took six of the eight positions they contested in what was seen as a landmark occasion for the county.
Donnelly has served two years as chairman while Reilly took over from Malachy Delargy as vice-chair having served as assistant secretary for one year.
Despite their relatively brief spell at the head of the Antrim county executive, both men could be ousted next Monday night.
Dunloy native Jim McLean is seeking the top role at the expense of Donnelly while Aghagallon’s Columb Walsh is nominated for the vice-chairperson’s job along with Gort na Móna clubman Reilly.
Stating his reasoning for challenging Donnelly for the chairperson’s job, McLean said “My affiliation with Antrim runs long and deep.
“I have been North Antrim chairman, an Ulster Council delegate, I was secretary of Dunloy for six years and I refereed for 10 or 12 years.
“I have played for Dunloy, Antrim and Ulster and I managed the Minor and U21 hurling teams.
“People have said we don’t have the know-how to take on these roles, but as someone who has been a GAA volunteer for many, many years, I feel I have plenty of experience.
“People can have their views, but all will come out at the convention next Monday night and the clubs will decide and democracy will win out.”
The main crux of McLean’s grievance with the incumbent leaders of the Antrim executive is that clubs have been kept out of the loop with recent developments.
While praising the success of the Saffron Business Forum, he disputes the notion that the current county executive have been responsible for securing a £1.5m cash boost for Gaelic Games in Belfast.
“When the Saffron Vision came in, it was the kick in the arse Antrim need,” stated McLean.
“People who were in business were in a position to come in and help the county and that had never been tapped before.
“I welcome that with open arms and I hope the Saffron Business Forum continues and grows. I wouldn’t be naïve to say we don’t need those fellas.
“But the clubs need the respect back. The control of the county committee has to come back to the clubs.
“Fixtures have been a shambles in the past year. There are rumblings with the referees too. I think they have taken their eye off things.
He added: “The Belfast Plan has been on the go for the last 10 years. Dublin got their money and they are now in the position were they can take on any county.
“That money was ring-fenced for Belfast and work by Frankie Quinn and Dr Eugene Young of the Ulster Council brought that to fruition.
“If all the coaches and money comes to Belfast, maybe it will free up coaches to come to South West and North Antrim.”
However, Donnelly is adamant that the achievements of the last two years ought to be enough to see him hold on to the top position at next Monday night’s county convention.
“I think we have demonstrated over the last two years that we have brought Antrim forward,” said Donnelly.
“We inherited quite a poor operation and we have managed to turn the ship around. With the help of people who have joined the different sub-committees, I think we are halfway through the project and I hope we given the chance to kick on.
“I am surprised that some of the people who have been there previously feel that they could come back and do something different. I can’t understand how that would be the case when they have spent several years on the executive and the results are there to see.
“What are they bringing to the table now that wasn’t there before?”
Donnelly feels that the election of a new chair and vice-chair now isn’t in the best interest of the county and highlighted the advances he feels the Antrim executive have made over the last two years.
“I think we have made a couple of significant advances especially with the Casement Park project,” added the St John’s clubman.
“We have made great strides in building bridges with the social club and with the Ulster Council. We have the Saffron Business Forum and their work has been invaluable.
“We have also put more money than ever before in coaching and development. “We have attracted people like Liam Sheedy to the county and he will be involved with the Senior Hurling team this season.
“We also had to find an extra £50,000 to extend the car park at Dunsilly when we took over the site due to a planning issue. Again, that was something we had to deal with from the previous regimes.
He added: “It isn’t that we haven’t reached out to people.
“I think people are running for positions and they don’t know what is involved in these roles.
“I think they would be in for a major wake-up call. Antrim GAA isn’t a small operation – it has more £1 million in revenue and you need to be on your game to make sure that it is managed in the proper way. I think that’s the biggest thing we have brought to the party – proper governance.”
Sinead Mullan will also challenge Paul O’Brien for the position of assistant secretary while Joe Edwards, Alec McQuillan and Dr John McSparran will vie for the two Ulster Council delegate positions.
Aside from the election of officers, a number of motions and recommendations will be brought before Monday’s convention.
O’Donnell’s are seeking to tighten the rules around underage player transfers and want a move only to be sanctioned if a player’s residence has changed.
Ahoghill want to grant the incoming CCC more powers to rearrange fixtures in relation to dual codes. A similar recommendation from Sarsfield’s is seeking greater flexibility for games when a club has county players in action on the same day.
Glenavy are also seeking a pilot scheme to play up to six rounds of senior league fixtures on a Friday night during the forthcoming season.