Mild-mannered. Genuine. Diligent. Workaholic. As Páraic Duffy prepares to wave goodbye as GAA director general this Saturday, there has been similarities in the tributes paid to him. Rightly too: He is all of the above but we can add steeliness to it.
That was abundantly evident at Annual Congress in Mullingar seven years ago when he stepped down from the top table to confront Croke Park Streets Committee protesters who managed to get into the room to disrupt proceedings and brandish a banner in front of the media area. Politely but firmly, Duffy asked them to leave before stewards ushered them out.
To take it upon himself to deal with the protesters demonstrated leadership as it did bravery. Here was a potentially awkward moment but the assertiveness with which Duffy dealt with the incident ensured it never became that.
Few can say Duffy shied away from issues. With two hands, he attempted to grasp the nettle that is payments to managers in 2012 only for the GAA to look the other way and undermine its commitment to its widely flouted amateur ethos.
He expressed disappointment that the organisation was willing to do so and continue to leave itself open to further anecdotal evidence of hypocrisy but as was the case on a number of occasions he could only lead the horse to water.
More executive power is something he would have appreciated although his will was often backed by the GAA. The “Super 8”, the sticking expression coined by the Club Players Association (CPA) to describe the new All-Ireland quarter-final series, is his baby.
The true judgment on that will have to wait but our concerns about it being elitist have been aired plenty at this stage. It is a bridge to a tiered Championship but it’s a ropy one.
Are clubs in a better situation now than they were when he took over from Liam Mulvihill? The establishment of the CPA would indicate “no” and when words like ‘disenfranchise’ continue to be bandied about so often, there has to be concern.
April doesn’t appear like it’s going to do much for clubs. Former inter-county players JJ Delaney and Wayne McNamara’s anger about how the Kilkenny and Limerick championships have been affected by the rescheduling is echoed in many counties.
Duffy has been open to changing his opinion on matters such as taking the All-Ireland senior finals out of September. On one hand, that attitude illustrates amenability; on the other, it could be interpreted as flip-flopping.
In his annual report three years ago, he said: “Clearly, you cannot have a principle that says we want to protect the club game and then turn around and recommend a proposal that increases the number of championship games.”
But that’s exactly what the Super 8 is doing even if the All-Ireland SFC will be played in a more condensed schedule.
Regularly in recent years, Duffy has cited his native Monaghan as an example of how fixture plans can work effectively, but then Monaghan is not a dual county and marrying the club and county scene is considerably easier than in Cork or Tipperary.
Never has the dual club player been more at risk. The fourth anniversary of the GAA’s relationship with Sky Sports takes place this Sunday although it has never been properly explained other than the claim it has kept RTÉ competitive in terms of what they have been offering financially and production-wise.
To suggest it has increased awareness of Gaelic games in the UK would be stretching it when analysing the viewing figures, while putting Championship matches beyond the reach of those in Ireland seems counter-productive.
During his time, the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) were officially recognised as they are now being lavishly funded to the tune of €2.5 million per annum.
Yet it’s far easier to have them now inside the tent doing the proverbial outside it than the other way around, especially when professionalism comes knocking once more.
Dublin’s rise has happened on his watch but we would not share the idea that somehow their dominance is something to be embarrassed about. That the GAA in the capital is thriving — it could use more clubs, mind — is a success story although the equalisation of funding, overseen by Duffy’s successor Tom Ryan as director of finance, is timely.
Duffy would have dearly loved to see Belfast provided with a new Casement Park by this stage but again he could only control his own controllables.
Even if the Garth Brooks concerts episode was forgettable, the success of Croke Park can be attributed to the vision of Duffy and stadium and commercial director Peter McKenna.
Although it can be streamlined, the disciplinary system has never been stronger. The massive growth of the Association, its ballooning relevancy as a cultural phenomenon carries Duffy’s stamp.
Ryan takes over having been a remarkably steady hand at the tiller and one would imagine Duffy will be forthcoming with advice on tackling the biggest job in Irish sport.
Respect is what Duffy came into the position with and it’s with respect that he leaves it. After just over 10 years in an incredibly challenging role, that’s an achievement in itself.
PaperTalk GAA Show: Mayo survival, backing McBrearty, Wexford 'train on' and Cuala join annals
League gets a rewarding finale
All’s well that ends well, right? If that is the case then the Allianz Football Leagues can be deemed a success despite being the most weather-affected competition in recent times.
Across the country, there was magic around the 4.30pm mark. With the number of steps he took before sending the ball over the bar, Kevin McLoughlin was so fortunate to produce his last gasp trick against Donegal to seal a draw and secure Mayo’s Division 1 status but the strike was special. Around about the same time in Croke Park, Monaghan’s Fintan Kelly was firing over a belting beauty himself from long range at the death to end Dublin’s winning run that had stretched back to May last year.
In Cavan, Niall Madden was on hand to direct an additional time punt between the posts to send the county up to Division 1 at the expense of their opponents Tipperary. Like McLoughlin’s effort, there was something dubious about Seamus Quigley’s winning free in the final minute of injury time in Longford but Fermanagh are a Division 2 team in 2019 because of it.
Kicking mightn’t be the dying art some people believe it to be, certainly not when you consider the pressure all four players would have been on in those circumstances particularly McLoughlin, Madden and Quigley.
The dramatic nature of the results was quite the finish for the last full weekend of round games and once again proved the attraction of the league in pitting teams of equal or similar strength against one another.
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