Leadership comes in many forms and yesterday in the rarely seen surroundings of the Coiste Bainistí or Central Council room at Croke Park, we got to see the first inklings of how new GAA Director General Tom Ryan would take on the mantle.
His introduction and his answer to the questions launched at him by assembled media was measured but with sufficient steel to suggest he understands not only the honour but also the responsibility has been given.
One senior journalist on the way in suggested he could count on one hand the number of times media had been invited to that corner of the stadium rarely seen outside the inner circle. One of the last was when Paraic Duffy held his similar first briefing a decade ago.
The weight of history lies heavy in the room. Framing Ryan and GAA President John Horan were black and white portraits of those who have walked in their shoes since the GAA was first founded in 1884.
Horan started out in a fashion that will be understood by those involved in the GAA. Ryan had asked him if their first meeting could finish in time so that he could make it out to his local club Faughs near Templeogue so that he could take an underage training session.
That connection to the real foundations of why the GAA is what it is will be important in the coming years.
Ryan has already been accused, with disdain, as being an insider but surely those who level the jibe would understand themselves the depth to which the GAA runs in peoples hearts and minds and to be anything else would surely have greater risk attached.
He spoke of the honour to be appointed but was very clear that he would asked to be judged on what he achieved in the coming years rather than so soon on what others though he might be inclined towards.
Ryan has been the Financial director throughout the last decade, closely aligned to the GAA’s Commercial Director Peter McKenna and involved in deals on sponsorship and media rights than some feel are putting the ethos of the GAA at risk.
“Be fair, be reasonable, be decent, be honest and work hard.” They were the words of advice handed to him by his predecessor and the values by which he proposes to base his actions.
“It’s incumbent on me to make a mark and then is the time to judge.”
“Finance and commercialism within the GAA are a means to an end and nothing more than that. They are the means by which you try to accumulate the resources that you need to gather, in order to further the stuff that you need to do.”
“I’ve always more concerned with what we do with the money as to where we take it in from. There is a natural balance within the GAA at the moment and I hope that people will recognise that we do not operate in an environment where everything is for sale.”
“We don’t do that. We go to the market looking to generate a fair and reasonable income with which to fund the things that we are obliged to provide.”
“If we were to curtail things commercially you have to do the same in terms of expansion and ambition.”
Among the areas that have caused the most heat has been the media rights deal putting games behind a paywall.
That is not up for debate until the next time that the agreements relating to all media are up for renewal in 2021.
Ryan was clear that he would not be looking to alter any of the existing media arrangements.
“We are not looking at changing the nuts and bolts of the agreement on media. The decisions we made over the last two agreements were not taken lightly and even though the number of games has increased, we will not be putting any more on TV.”
In terms of the split in decision making between what is seen as ‘Croke Park’ and what is seen as the wider GAA, Ryan is clear on how the best outcomes are reached.
“I don’t think that one single person sitting in my seat can impose their singular vision on what the GAA is over the next few years.”
“You need to have a vision and a personal perspective but imposing that is not going to work so it will be a case of a little bit of guidance, a little bit of probing, a little bit of pulling and dragging but all those things are part of the structure we work in and have stood us in good stead over more than 130 years.”
In the short term, Ryan hopes to have a good year in terms of the new Championship structures delivering excitement and a few ‘bolters’ coming through to add to the excitement, as well as to see participation numbers rising across the sport.
Ryan said that part of his role is to help the Association as a whole to set the right tone and maintain the right culture to keep it at the heart of what Irish life is all about.
Judgement in the modern era comes quicker than ever but Ryan will withstand the urge to react to every criticism, to look to the long-term health of the GAA as a whole as opposed to single groups within.
His performance in front of the media was assured and assuring for those who have selected him as first among equals to lead the sport into an era where change has never been so much to the fore.
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Image Credits: Brendan Moran, Sportsfile and Gary Carr, Inpho Photography