The absurdly selfless one who does everything well and occasionally perfect — running up personal phone bills he can’t pay with a business failing because he can’t put enough time into it. Mainlined into the GAA’s bloodstream.
Amid all the hoopla about outside managers and the price of their advice, the importance of the club chairman frequently gets overlooked these days. A right one or a wrong one will invariably shape the mood, direction and structure of a GAA club. Get a good one to grab a town or village by the scruff of the neck and you can create a potent community movement that generates money and turnover without even trying. Everyone goes to the local for the sandwich and pint after a game because it feels right and proper to be there — even if you’ve nothing to do with the team or club.
The vibe around matches is always good, even in defeat, because there’s a sense everything’s going in the right direction. Volunteers for the Golf Classic, the Night at the Dogs, the Club Lotto all prove bountiful because the chairman engenders a can-do, will-do mentality.
Of course, even a coin has two sides. A chair with too great a sense of their own worth can become isolated, creating friction and getting backs up throughout the club. One with no sense of authority creates a vacuum and wonders why the club is split in so many different directions. Why the under-age has several different ways of playing, none of them successful.
The best part of being involved with Ballymacelligott GAA club in Kerry was the years Tom O’Donoghue was chairman.
They were a mad six or seven years as a player, then selector. Trying to balance this job, the arrival of a first child and three nights a week in Kerry with the club would have been an insurmountable task but for the success we were enjoying on the field and the facility the management was given off it to get on with our players.
An eclectic sideline team of an outsider, a sort of blow-in (moi), and a local diehard worked for longer than it should because Tom O’Donoghue drove the club from one plateau to another. In six seasons, we won five promotions, ending up in Division One of the Kerry County League for the first time in the club’s history. Of course, it wouldn’t be the GAA without the sour ending and personal twinge of regret after a few poorly-timed words to me were spoken out of turn. Tom had stepped down before the club claimed that ultimate promotion, I suspect to try and salvage what was left of his meat delivery business. Had he remained in charge, it’s possible the issue would have been sorted, though on reflection it was best, at least for me, it wasn’t. The job, the football or the family had to go, Ballymac was Hobson’s Choice.
I hadn’t met or spoken to Tom for quite a few years until last month when I recognised the number coming up on the phone. Though I knew there was work involved in taking the call, I willingly did so. Tom declared he was back. Back as chairman of the district St Kieran’s which is an amalgamation of Castleisland Desmonds and the surrounding parishes of Ballymac, Brosna, Cordal, Currow, Scartaglin and Knocknagoshel. An onerous job of drawing rivals together that has been beyond most coaches and chairmen, with the solitary exception of 1988 when they won their Kerry SFC title. Not that such trifling detail will deter Mr O’Donoghue. He organised a pre-Championship tournament in May, in memory of Currow man Dan O’Sullivan — a quiet, genial figure I’d hate to have run into when he was playing — to be hosted by St Kieran’s. He’d like some publicity, please. Also, a Race Night was being organised. Help with the press release required. I’m sure I let him down on at least one of my tasks, and surer still that I’ll hear about it when we meet.
Next Friday night, the opening shots in the Kerry County Championship will take place and Tom O’Donoghue will be in Scartaglin watching his men play host to Kenmare. Charlie Farrelly, Liam Brosnan and Dan Reidy will have everything a management team could want in preparation for the game. That much I’m sure of, and also that the pitch in Scart will be manicured to within an inch of its being, that the pre and post-match meetings and meals will be organised and menu-ed and everyone involved will be kitted out in club tee-shirts.
And the best part about it for everyone involved is that Tom O’Donoghue will not make the slightest bit of commotion and drama about it. When I see the GAA President’s awards being named every year I wonder can they be as giving to the GAA as the Ballymac man. The answer is of course they are, there are Tom O’Donoghue’s sprinkled across the country. That’s what makes the GAA such an indestructible organisation, even in these suffocating times.
But for the time being, be advised and warned that St Kieran’s should not be taken lightly in 2011.