Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Paraic Duffy: A moderniser steeped in game's tradition

Paraic Duffy has emerged from the relative obscurity of schools' GAA to become the man who pulls the strings in one of Ireland's biggest organisations

Paraic Duffy has mastered that impossible contradiction of being a man who has much to do and little time to do it in, yet conveying that there is no place he would rather be, than right where he is, at any time.

No wonder the 18th Ard-Stiúrthóir [Director-General] of the GAA begins his working day at 7am every morning. He enjoys the quiet while the city awakes, inside his unobtrusive office within one of the greatest monuments in the world to the spirit of volunteerism, that he gets his work done.

Once 9am arrives, the phone receivers leap and the inbox keeps growing and growing.

And while he means to check out by 6pm, a job like his never really finishes. "The way I look at it," he says, "I don't count the hours."

Just as well. We meet him two days after the publication of his annual report, a document that took time preparing and would be parsed and analysed and questioned for the entire week. On the Monday night following the document's release and media briefing, he had a function with the Football Review Committee.

The following night he had a rare night off and headed back to his apartment. He watched a bit of the Real Madrid V Barcelona game, and read a bit of a book on the 2008 United States Presidential election.

It took him back 20 years previous. Duffy had a cousin who was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. America was in the grip of oilmen, big money, bigger shoulder pads and the Democratic candidate Mike Dukakis barely stood a chance against George W Bush senior, but when Duffy got a chance to spend three days on the Democratic campaign trail he grabbed it.

They toured all over the east coast, making stops at Newark, New Jersey, Connecticut and Philadelphia.

From moving in those circles, to now. The night of the interview he will go along to take in the MacRory Cup semi-final where St Macartan's, Monaghan – the school of which he was the first lay person Principal, for over a decade – will succumb to St Paul's Bessbrook.

It's that kind of life. Let's go back to the start.

Paraic Duffy was a son of Mickey Duffy, of the Blackhill club. When he was two, his father became county chairman. It may seem preposterous now in the age of the five-year rule, but he remained in that rule through 21 unbroken years.

As the family now resided in Castleblayney, Paraic played for the Faughs club. He plays down his own abilities on the field, but cherished his time doing so.

In St Macartan's school, he excelled and left at 16 to do a Modern Irish History degree.

He takes up the story.

"I was preparing for my final exams, I was at home one night and went up to a match in 'Blayney. I met Fr Enda McCormack, who was a great coach and coached St Macartan's MacRory Cup winning teams.

"He asked me what I was doing and I said I was finishing up my degree with the final exams. He said he might have a job for me.

"Told me to jog down tomorrow evening to Macartan's. Following evening, I thumbed a lift into Monaghan, went down to Macartan's, he interviewed me, and he offered me a teaching job."

That's how simple it was. His first day teaching, he was 19 years and 11 months old, teaching lads two years younger than him. Four evenings a week he would make the drive to Maynooth to gain his Higher Diploma, learning on the job.

In the GAA, an assistant secretary job with the club led to the same one with the minor board. The secretary resigned half-way through the year and he took over.

Since that, his tour of duty took in; secretary of the minor board, youth chairman, and vice-chairman He served as PRO from 1978 and became county chairman in 1983.

The mid-80s was a golden period for Monaghan football. Sean McCague was manager and he brought Duffy in as a selector and they won the 1985 National League.

Then he went into coaching, helping out at Emyvale because he found himself down the pecking order in Scotstown when it came to taking teams.

When he hears columnists and others getting preachy on the supposed ills of the 'outside manager' – including former GAA President Christy Cooney – he disagrees with their doomsday premonitions.

For a time in the '90s he took a step back while his children were growing up, and concentrated on Scotstown. Then a call from the blue came from his old friend McCague who asked him outright if he would head up the Games Administration Committee.

He made headway in the fixtures and disciplinary mess that would often embroil the Association, and his skills were recognised by next President Sean Kelly, who asked him to chair an entirely different committee concentrating on coaching and games.

By the time Nickey Brennan assumed the Presidency, Duffy had completed eleven years as principal of St Macartan's. He wanted a new challenge but wasn't keen on going to another school to start again.

He applied for the new role of Player Welfare Manager in Croke Park. He was hardly in it for a year before the news came that Liam Mulvihill retired from his post of Director General. There was no place else for Duffy to go but up.

He accepted it on St Brigid's Day, February 1, 2008 and has utterly modernised the Association with exceptional leadership. He is the most powerful man in the GAA and beyond doubt, the greatest sports administrator in this country.

So, where do we start?

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