Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Joe Kernan: The burdens of Presidency weigh heavy

Ulster's triumph in the 2009 inter-provincial football championship under the captaincy of Tyrone's Stephen O'Neill (right) was one of the highlights of Tom Daly's term as provincial Council President
Ulster's triumph in the 2009 inter-provincial football championship under the captaincy of Tyrone's Stephen O'Neill (right) was one of the highlights of Tom Daly's term as provincial Council President

It is doubtful if there is a more demanding role in Irish sport than that of president of the GAA.

In recent years the position has not only brought added responsibility but has meant a huge increase in the work-load of the post-holder because of the growth and development of the Association.

In days gone by the president might have attended occasional meetings in Croke Park, undertaken the usual round of social functions and been seen as a high-profile figure at the major matches.

But latterly the role of president has changed dramatically. The present incumbent, Christy Cooney, will step down from office in April 2012 but it’s a safe bet that he will have very little spare time between now and then.

In his business role as a senior executive with FÁS, Cooney had grown accustomed to dealing with labour relations problems and prolonged meetings.

But his burden in that particular capacity has been dwarfed by the enormous responsibilities he has had to assume since slipping into the top post in the GAA.

The Association may cherish its amateur ideals but it is without doubt one of the most professional sporting bodies in Europe in many respects, with a massive financial turnover, an ever-increasing playing membership, facilities that are now the envy of other sports and a profile that has been considerably enhanced through huge sponsorship agreements and almost boundless television coverage.

Yet even against this backdrop it had been thought that at the GAA Annual Congress in Mullingar in April several candidates would be in the field to succeed Cooney.

But within the past three weeks three candidates — Con Hogan, Seamus Howlin and Tom Daly — have all withdrawn from the race.

This means that well-known Leinster Council administrator Liam O’Neill will automatically become the next president given that the pathway has now been cleared for him to succeed Cooney.

And while I for one am disappointed that former Ulster Council president Daly has decided to opt out of the presidential race, I totally understand his reasons for doing so.

During his three years as Ulster president, he gave unsparingly of himself and was at the very core of numerous initiatives launched by the Council.

As a family man who holds an important job in the Republic’s Health Service, Ballyshannon man Tom has important commitments outside the GAA.

Yet Ulster has reason to be very grateful to him for what he achieved while at the helm of operations — greater emphasis on coaching, an increase in the number of floodlit county grounds, an enhanced relationship with the media, a much stronger integration policy and greater liaison with government departments.

If his beloved Donegal did not set the world alight on the playing field during his reign, then

Ulster’s capture of the inter-provincial football championship in 2009, when Tyrone’s Stephen O’Neill was captain, and the numerous All Ireland successes at different levels and in various codes that came to the province during his tenure in office delighted him.

Tom has now obviously weighed up the demands of the role of GAA President against his current ongoing domestic and work commitments and decided that a 24/7 job for 365 days over a three-year period might be a bridge too far.

Obviously it remains to be seen how Liam O’Neill will adapt to the demanding role of President. He has held a similar office in Leinster and is well versed in all aspects of the GAA.

But such is the pace of change right now that even the most knowledgeable and committed of administrators can find themselves overtaken by events.

O’Neill will get the green light in April but will not formally assume the role of President until Congress 2012.

The three years after that will undoubtedly be the most hectic of his life. He will find himself immersed in every aspect of GAA activity and will log thousands of miles in his new role.

I wish him well.

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