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Dignified in Defeat

The corridors of Croke Park were awash on Friday night with the Silverbridge blue and yellow, as Jarlath Burns sought to become the 40th president of the GAA.

However, it was New York GAA’s Larry McCarthy who pulled off the victory on the fourth count.

Outside the conference room where the voting was taking place, it was difficult to spot a person who wasn’t a committed supporter of Burns’ campaign. 

A large group of Silverbridge clad bodies huddled around the television for the results of the first count, which was good news for Burns. 

A quota of 139 votes was needed; Burns received 80 first preferences votes, while the eventual winner Larry McCarthy received 63.

In the second count, Burns received a further 12 votes to bring his tally to 92, while McCarthy amassed 25 votes to take his total to 88.

Just before 10pm, the results of the third and fourth counts were announced. After the third count, both candidates were tied on 110 votes apiece, but in the fourth and decisive count McCarthy pulled away. 

Jarlath Burns unfortunately pipped at the post by Larry McCarthy on Friday night’s Annual Congress in Croke Park. 

Burns finished the fourth count with 132 votes, just seven shy of the quota, while McCarthy finished on 142, just ten votes ahead of Burns. 

In his concession speech, Burns struck a remarkably conciliatory tone and he praised the association for its progressiveness in appointing its first overseas candidate. 

“Today is a very historic day and momentous day,” Burns told the packed conference room.

He continued: “We have finally acknowledged and recognised that we have a very vibrant association outside of our country. I am very disappointed, but I am very pleased that this is the statement that the association has made today.” 

Burns said that he really enjoyed his time going “ar fud na tire” talking and listening to county executives.

Like all elections, the GAA presidential elections can be full of mudslinging, but Burns commended the candidates for the dignity with which they fought to election.

“Everyone in this room is a Gael, everyone in this room is a friend of mine, and we can all hold our heads high,” said Burns.

“It was a very clean battle, we crossed paths throughout the country, and I know there have been times whenever the race to become an Uachtaráin has at some stages become difficult and maybe things have been said. But I consider each of these four men my close friends as a result of us having been through this.”

Burns also recognised the huge commitment made by New York’s Larry McCarthy, saying: “I suppose of all the five candidates, Larry made the biggest commitment coming back over to Ireland every week. 

“It must have been an incredible cost and an incredible commitment for him to make. It just shows the passion with which he wants to lead the association and I salute that passion and I salute Larry.”

The Armagh legend and St Paul’s principal finished his concession speech by thanking his family and his club, but his words in the conference room were drowned out by the huge cheers that came from the dozens of supporters in the corridors.

“Finally, could I thank my own family who are all here today, and all of the people who supported, and mentored and advised me. And in particular, I thank my club, who I think virtually every one of them is outside here.”

When Burns emerged from the conference room, he was treated to a hero’s welcome by his family and supporters.

“I’m not disappointed,” he said, “I’m very proud for Larry, he is a very good GAA man. Larry is a Gael through and through, like every one of the candidates is. 

“I have great respect for Larry and I know that Larry is going to be a great president. That is what we need, a great president. 

“But we have a great club in Silverbridge, and we have a fantastic community. I am just so proud today of every one of you, and we are disappointed in our hearts but I will be back.”

The Silverbridge man has had many high profile roles within the upper echelons of the GAA hierarchy, and he reiterated his desire to contest the presidency next time around.  

“You learn who your friends are in moments like this, and you are all my friends. This is our community and today Silverbridge came to Croke Park. We didn’t do it today, but maybe the next time we come we will. 

“Peter Quinn had to come back, Seán McCague had to come back. But let’s be happy tonight because I am very happy. I got within ten votes of a great, great candidate and placed a close second. We’ll be back in the club, playing cards on Monday night and doing the lotto. We have a lot of work to do and we will start that work now.”