Paraic Duffy has led the GAA over the last ten years and as he prepares to hand over the reigns as Director General in a few short weeks he was in a reflective mood this morning at the first Sport for Business Breakfast event of 2018.
“It’s time now and I’m ready to move on,” he said in front of a room full of sporting and business leaders.
“I was ten years before this as Headmaster of St McCartans and it felt right then as it does now.”
“There is always a time to move aside and let somebody else come in with fresh thinking, different perspectives and a new energy to the role.”
“It has been an absolute pleasure working with my colleagues at Croke Park and with the massive volunteer base throughout the Association.”
When asked about the high points of his tenure there were plenty to pick from but its a measure of the era in which he has led that only two of the four came on the field of play.
Stephen Cluxton’s dramatic free to win the 2011 All Ireland Final was the first.
“As he placed the ball down I was asked did I think he would get it and I said no way.” Just goes to show as it sailed not only over but right over the black spot.”
The second was Bubbles O’Dwyers ‘wide’ that would have won the All Ireland Final for Tipperary in 2014.
“It was the best part of 100 metres out in the last puc of what had been a fantastic game.”
“The sliotar sailed towards the post and to be honest, and Brendan Maher won’t thank me for saying this, I think in the pre-Hawkeye era it would have been given. The referee went to the third eye however and it was rightly called wide by the slenderest of margins.”
Kilkenny went on then to win the All Ireland after a replay.
Croke Park was also the scene of the other two highlights, one of which was very personal in terms of Bruce Springsteen playing at the venue the other perhaps of even wider cultural and social importance.
“The Queen’s visit to Ireland was something very special,” said Duffy.
“There were a lot of people unsure about whether it was the right thing to do to have her at Croke Park but it was very well handled and something all of us involved in will remember for a very long time.”
An overseas visitor was responsible for one of the less good times as well with Garth Brooks taking a curtain call in that category.
“I was a fan but it was also such a big thing for the stadium and for Dublin. 70,000 people had booked from overseas to come and see him and when that didn’t happen it was a tricky time.”
“We got through it but my family won’t let me display the photograph I had with him when he was over to promote the concerts and it may take a while longer for that time to be looked back on with a wry smile.”
“The challenges of building a new stadium in Belfast remain unresolved and the Louth and Meath Leinster Final and all that happened there back in 2010 was difficult to bear, without being able to do anything to change it.”
“The Rugby World Cup bid was tough to lose in more recent times. It would have been great for the country and great to the tune of around €35 million for the GAA to invest in stadia if it had come off but these things happen in sport.”
Duffy has had no hand, act or part in the appointment of his successor and is happy that that has been the case. He will present his final Director General Report next week at Croke Park and then oversee one last Congress before taking time to get back home to Monaghan, to throw himself back into watching from the sidelines as Scotstown GAA becomes his sporting focus.
There may be the odd trip to see some NFL and perhaps the odd journey to see Tottenham Hotspur in their brand new stadium.
He deserves the peace and quiet. He has presided over a time of great change with a calm focus that has seen the GAA through and seen it thrive. We can sometimes take it for granted but the work of sporting administration can be a tough gig.
There is little of the glory that comes from winning, all of the brickbats when something or someone needs to be blamed.
Duffy took over from a great leader in Liam Mulvihill and exceeded even those high standards. We can only hope that we will be blessed with another of their stature to lead the GAA, and all its strands within Irish society through the next chapter.
The morning had kicked off with a great presentation from Teneo PSG on the state of the sponsorship market in Ireland heading into 2018 and the changes that were likely, followed up by a discussion between Pat Keogh of Leopardstown, Sue Ronan of the FAI and Diarmaid Murphy on some of the key events likely to be centre stage and the activities being undertaken to make sure they are a success.
Among the 100 plus members and guests who joined us for this first of our 2018 events were 2 Into 3, AIB, AIG, Along Came a Spider, Aperture Partners, Atomic Sport, Because XM, Bord Gais Energy, BSI Entertainment, Canterbury, Communicorp, Carton House, Corporate.ie, Croke Park, Cullen Communications, Dublin City Council, Eirgrid, Everyday Hero, FAI, GAA, Galvin Sports management, Galway Races, Horse Racing Ireland, IABA, Impact, The Irish Sponsorship Summit, Irish Wheelchair Sport, JGA Sports, Key Capital Private, Ladies Gaelic Football, Leopardstown, Line Up SME, Littlewoods Ireland, LK Shields, Mason Alexander, Paralympics Ireland, Piers White Consulting, Pundit Arena, PwC, Red Bull, Special Olympics, Sport for Business, Sport Ireland, St Joseph’s Boys, Teneo PSG, Tetrarch Hospitality, The Reputation Agency, TVM, Ulster Bank, Velocidi, William Fry and Wilson Hartnell.