Joe Kernan: Cooney stays true to grand new tradition
There is a group of people within the GAA who are regularly castigated for their decisions, sometimes branded as attention-seekers and often the butt of cynicism and indeed vitriol.
Lest anyone has already jumped to a speedy conclusion, I am most certainly not making reference to our much-maligned referees here.
No, the body of folk which shoulders a substantial degree of criticism annually is actually the top tier of the Association’s administrative set-up both at provincial and national levels.
Time was when such officials were aloof from the masses, figures that flitted stealthily through the corridors of power enjoying virtual immunity from the fall-out that accompanies so many issues at grassroots level.
But now that the top brass have become more accessible and indeed more accountable, they frequently find themselves in the firing line on topics as diverse as the experimental rules, player welfare, inconsistent refereeing, disciplinary processes and fixtures planning.
Over the course of the past decade in particular successive GAA presidents notably Sean McCague, Sean Kelly and Nickey Brennan have been very much in evidence on the ground, visiting clubs, attending forums and getting their hands dirty by tackling thorny problems head-on.
The current president Christy Cooney has lost no time in taking a leaf from their book, outlining his views on hot topics while at the same time inviting feedback from grassroots level that might influence official thinking further along the line.
While no individual or body will ever please all of the people all of the time, the fact that there is now greater transparency in the overall workings of the GAA and that democracy is seen to prevail — witness the historic vote that saw the Croke Park gates opened to international rugby and soccer — has helped to breed a greater degree of confidence within the Association as a whole and, equally importantly, has nurtured a rather more benign view of the country’s biggest sporting organisation within those areas where it might previously been deemed as anathema.
Indeed, we are singularly fortunate to have some of the most capable people in this country overall in key positions.
Liam Mulvihill was undoubtedly an administrative giant for well over two decades in his role as director general before being succeeded quite recently by the present incumbent Paraic Duffy, a man who brings vast experience and an academic’s brain to the role.
If Sean Kelly was a visionary president who pursued his own course of action for what he felt was the greater good of the Association, Nickey Brennan was more of a diplomat while Monaghan man Sean McCague did much to help gaelic football shed its pseudo-macho image through which, because of the dubious culture that abounded at one stage, players who were in essence cowards — tackling from behind, off-the-ball ‘specialists’, engaging in third-man tackles — were often actually portrayed as heroes.
While the GAA as a whole has reaped the benefits of having top-flight personnel in key positions in more recent times, Ulster has been particularly fortunate in the calibre of people who have guided it through the past two decades.
A string of dedicated presidents have led by example but perhaps none more so than Tom Daly who has just stepped down having served his three-year term in the top office to be replaced by Aoghan Farrell.
Tom brought a fresh dimension to the presidential role, ensuring that the Association extended its tentacles into virtually every corner of the province.
By sheer force of his personality and with the backing of the well-oiled Ulster Council machinery, Tom found himself cast in the role of a pioneer, an evangelist who preached the gospel of togetherness under the banner of a shared future.
It would be a huge pity if his many-sided talents were not to be accommodated in a role in which he could continue to have an input into the ongoing success story that is the GAA in the province.
Aoghan will surely acknowledge that he has a hard act to follow but with the support of secretary Danny Murphy, a man who would not be out of place within the higher echelons of government or business administration, the Cootehill schoolteacher is poised to leave his own imprint on the Ulster GAA landscape.
The GAA may boast an amateur ethos but it is undoubtedly one of the most professional organisations in Ireland in relation to the undertaking of detailed strategic planning for the future, capital projects, expansive coaching initiatives and garnering sponsorship.
Last year the Association celebrated the 125th year of its existence with due pomp and ceremony.
But few will argue that the last 20 years have witnessed more radical developments than had taken place in the previous 105 years.
And why should this have been the case? There’s a two-word answer to that — visionary leadership.