The GAA confirmed on Saturday that Tom Ryan is to become the Association’s new Director General.
The 48-year-old father of three joined the GAA from Brown Thomas in 2007 and has served the Association as Director of Finance for the past 11 years.
In that time he has seen revenues grow from less than €50 million to last year’s €65 million, yet he has resisted the temptation to increase ticket prices at matches, an important factor in retaining the GAA’s sense of being very much a people’s game.
He has been instrumental in the many of the Association’s major infrastructural projects over the time and helped to steer the Association through the economic downturn.
He will need to have a sense of self-confidence as there will be plenty ready to criticise the fact that he comes from a business rather than a games background. Joe Brolly was quick out of the blocks on Saturday, decrying the appointment as ‘more of the same’ and criticising the fact that he was “an inside man, a numbers man, no someone who’s known to GAA folk.”
As the announcement was being made, Ryan was in fact very much among GAA folk, in O’Moore Park in Portlaoise watching his native Carlow win Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League as a curtain raiser to the AIB All Ireland Club Final between Cuala and Na Piarsaigh.
I shook his hand and offered him my congratulations as we walked down a stairway, one of many to do so then and in the coming weeks.
Like many in the crowd, he might well have gone there from a pitch in a public park after cheering on a juvenile team from his local club in Dublin, Faughs.
He is Treasurer at the club and whether that is a bad thing in the eyes of those who see money as the root of all the problems in the GAA, it remains a critical part of what keeps the whole show on the road at every level.
The GAA is and always has been a massive democracy. Tom Ryan will be able to suggest but not shove the Association in radical new direction over the next seven years.
There is no demand from the stock market for constant growth and pivot. The main task of a Director-General is to anticipate the changes in society, outside and inside the GAA, which will impact its ability to survive and thrive. He will be judged ultimately not on one day but over the seven years of his tenure and on how the sport and the communities it creates are positioned then as opposed to now.
Ryan’s world is not one of immediate reaction and response to headlines though he needs to be aware of how that world works.
He will put up hundreds of thousands of kilometres on the roads of Ireland in the coming years meeting the members of the association who play on pitches, who work late into the night setting up halls and long into the year keeping their clubs, their teams afloat.
He will be asked many times what can you do for us? The reality is that if every cent which came into the GAA last year, leaving aside that almost 100 percent of it goes out in supporting the Association anyway, was distributed equally among the 2,500 clubs that make up the GAA that each would get €26,000.
Anyone who has been involved in a club will see that as being not enough for a new pitch, not nearly enough for floodlighting, and barely enough to pay for the bibs and balls, the referee fees and the food for the players on the way back from a trip to represent their town, their county or their sport.
The demand for radical new thinking is easy to make but essentially misplaced in an organisation that has survived and thrived down its 134-year history based on slow but steady changes.
There were many strong candidates for this vital role, probably one of the most important in Irish society and certainly so in Irish sport. Tom Ryan is the one to emerge with the backing of his peers and the hopes of his sport resting on his shoulders.
He deserves the time and space to make his own mark as only the fifth individual to fill the role since 1929.
In his words of acceptance of the job he said: “I am humbled and excited to be assuming this position and I am greatly looking forward to serving the Association and its members to the very best of my ability in the years ahead.”
What more can we ask or expect?