Ryan must ditch ac­coun­tant robes and be­come leader GAA needs

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - JOHN GREENE

TO­DAY is of­fi­cially Tom Ryan’s first day as the GAA’s new Ard Stiúrthoir. Pre­sum­ably he will take his seat in the front row of the Ard Comhairle for the Al­lianz League Di­vi­sion 1 and 2 fi­nals and sur­vey the scene be­fore him, per­haps dif­fer­ently than he might pre­vi­ously have done as the As­so­ci­a­tion’s di­rec­tor of fi­nance.

We know very lit­tle about Tom Ryan or what ex­actly he will bring to his new role. He has opted to wait un­til he is for­mally in the job be­fore out­lin­ing his vi­sion for the GAA. We do know he is an ac­coun­tant, and ac­cord­ing to one source quoted in this pa­per last week, he is “a safe pair of hands”.

Another sug­ges­tion last week was that his time as fi­nance di­rec­tor “gives him a huge advantage” be­cause “if any­thing is pro­posed he will see the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions of it. If he comes up with ini­tia­tives he will know in­stinc­tively if they are fi­nan­cially vi­able.”

But why is that a good thing? Why, for that mat­ter, is a ‘safe pair of hands’ a good thing? Many peo­ple ac­tu­ally be­lieve that’s the last thing the GAA needs right now.

The whole pur­pose of hav­ing a fi­nance di­rec­tor is to make sure that the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fi­nances are in good health, to as­sess the vi­a­bil­ity of pro­posed projects, and to do all the other things that a good, er, ac­coun­tant can do. By all ac­counts, Tom Ryan has been do­ing that job ex­tremely well. In the As­so­ci­a­tion’s com­mer­cial wing, Pe­ter McKenna has also been do­ing his job very well. McKenna and Ryan have seen to it that the GAA con­tin­ues to gen­er­ate a lot of money to fund its ac­tiv­i­ties.

So, the GAA does not need an ac­coun­tant, or a pru­dent fi­nan­cial brain, as its di­rec­tor gen­eral. It needs some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, some­one with the lead­er­ship, vi­sion and drive to ar­rest the As­so­ci­a­tion’s rapid slide into semi-pro­fes­sion­al­ism and to save its soul by em­pow­er­ing the clubs again. The ero­sion of the core prin­ci­ples of the As­so­ci­a­tion needs to be re­versed. The army of vol­un­teers across the coun­try need to feel val­ued again, and they need to see the val­ues they be­lieve in back front and cen­tre.

So when Tom Ryan sits be­hind his new desk for the first time this week, he must cast off his ac­coun­tant’s robes and be a leader. We can as­sume he has a plan be­cause he went through an in­ter­view process. We need to know soon what this plan is. The GAA’s broad mem­ber­ship can­not af­ford a ‘wait and see’ ap­proach. Ryan should not seek to merely pre­side over the As­so­ci­a­tion, ap­ply­ing a steady hand on the tiller. That will not be enough.

Clubs are scream­ing for help; rank and file mem­bers are dis­il­lu­sioned with how county boards are run­ning their games pro­grammes; county boards are pan­ick­ing over the po­ten­ti­tal im­pact of the new in­ter-county cham­pi­onship struc­tures; pitches all over the coun­try have been de­stroyed by be­ing forced to stage far too many games dur­ing the worst spell of weather we have seen in decades; elite squads at un­der­age level are cre­at­ing a sense of en­ti­tle­ment in young play­ers, and pro­mot­ing the self over the col­lec­tive; too many man­agers of county foot­ball and hurl­ing are be­ing al­lowed to dic­tate to clubs; and all the while, the strong grow stronger and the weak — well the weak have their games de­clared null and void be­cause they don’t re­ally mat­ter.

Tom Ryan (pic­tured) has not spo­ken much in pub­lic — other than on fi­nan­cial mat­ters — about the GAA, al­though we do know he was in­volved in redi­rect­ing some of the money in­vested in Dublin to the wider com­muter belt in Le­in­ster.

We don’t have a huge amount to go on, how­ever, in terms of his views on GAA poli­cies. We did get some in­sight a few years ago in Michael Moynihan’s book, in which Ryan talked about balanc­ing a pro­fes­sional ap­proach with an un­der­stand­ing of the As­so­ci­a­tion. “If you in­ter­pret pro­fes­sion­al­ism as run­ning things prop­erly, in the right way,” he said, “then that’s the way ev­ery­thing has to be run, down to your own club, never mind the GAA as a whole. That’s a world away from pro­fes­sion­al­ism as many peo­ple un­der­stand the term, but it’s a good dis­ci­pline for the GAA to have.

“For in­stance, if you were in­ter­view­ing peo­ple for a job in Croke Park, it’s nice if the suc­cess­ful can­di­date has an in­ter­est in the games — and most of them do — but you wouldn’t be do­ing the GAA a ser­vice if you awarded the job to the big­gest hurl­ing fan you in­ter­viewed rather than the best-qual­i­fied ac­coun­tant, for in­stance.

“The other side of that is that you can find your­self telling GAA peo­ple how to run things, and these are peo­ple whose spare time, whose fam­ily time, is be­ing af­fected by their vol­un­tary work, and you can sense there may be a lit­tle gap be­tween Croke Park and the club man. It’s some­thing I’d love to get rid of.”

Get­ting rid of this ‘lit­tle gap’ would cer­tainly be a good start. The re­al­ity is that there is much work to be done. Ryan can­not al­low him­self to be­come bogged down in fi­nan­cial mat­ters. The new di­rec­tor gen­eral must worry about the health of the As­so­ci­a­tion, not its bank bal­ance. The GAA should move quickly to find a new di­rec­tor of fi­nance, and it will be his or her job to worry about money.

So when he sur­veys the scene in Croke Park this af­ter­noon, let’s hope that Tom Ryan’s cal­cu­la­tor has been locked away . . . in­def­i­nitely.

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