Belfast Telegraph

GAA chief Paraic Duffy shows clear and transparent leadership

Declan Bogue

ON a slow news day, the publication of an Annual GAA Report of any hue is a Godsend.

When the report is penned by Paraic Duffy, Director General of the GAA, the day becomes an education, such is the breadth and quality of his yearly missives.

The GAA is the largest and most influential sporting body in Ireland, but it benefits from being staffed at the highest level by figures who would rather walk away from their roles than be consumed by a spirit of aloofness that has ultimately been the downfall of other institutions.

In Duffy, there is a clear and transparent leadership. He embraces the media and their function in the ever-evolving debating that sustains the Association. Some of what he included in his report we might not agree with, but the man himself would have little bother with that.

He has never been afraid to venture his own opinion; and in doing so, he realises that comments attributed to him have a role in prising open dialogue.

Take for example the issues pertaining around Ireland's bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 or 2027.

He acknowledges the harmonious relationship that the GAA and IRFU fell into during the IRFU's tenancy of Croke Park while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped, but sends out a clear statement that if GAA premises are allowed to form part of the World Cup bid, then the Irish Government will be compelled to foot a good proportion of the bill. Talk about playing the long game.

Or even his praise of London in making the Connacht final of 2013.

That day when they played Mayo, they stood in a line shaking the hand of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the head of a Government whose continuing financial mis-management has led to emigration being once again seen as an inevitability.

Sure, those lads were proud to represent London on that day, but they might have been happier living at home in Ireland all the same.

"The commitment to our games of players who have emigrated is uplifting, although strongly tinged with regret that so many have had to emigrate in the first place," reads Duffy's report, crystallising an issue that the rest of what used to be loosely bracketed as 'Official Ireland' has refused to accept.

Elsewhere he takes swipes at the practice of managers naming – or simply even refusing to name – 'dummy teams', the disease of gambling and shows an impressive knowledge of American studies on fans' loyalty.

He proposes a radical suggestion surrounding the naming of a potential matchday panel that will hardly catch on. Nevertheless he is not afraid to flag it up, and the shoddy practice of red cards being overturned with the flimsiest of defences.

One area he might have wrong is when he expresses surprise that clubs do not represent the rights of the club player more when it comes to fixtures.

The role of delegate to the county board is possibly the least appealing to a club volunteer. Once you are one, you soon learn to comply with the wishes of a county board – which quite often are the will of senior inter-county managers.

Despite all that, the problem with having an outspoken man at the head of an organisation that provokes such emotive debate as the GAA, is that his more left-of-centre ideas will be lifted and manipulated over the next few days.

Team managers and players will be presented with half-baked understandings of Duffy's point and although they might not have digested the report, will offer up scathing comments about "that crowd up there in Croke Park that are out of touch".

The good news is that the GAA make an extensive effort to reach as many people as possible with the full, unedited version available to anyone that can access their website.

The social media team are also in the process of plastering it all over Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a spare hour and want to get a handle on the issues affecting the GAA, without the need to create a sensationalist headline, take a look at it.

There is much to learn and admire about a large organisation moving in the right direction through hard work, maturity and a distinct lack of ego.

Next week, normal cynicism levels will resume!

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