In less than three weeks, Tom Ryan will deliver his first annual report as GAA director general. Just over nine months in the position, it’s an ideal opportunity to address what was at times a turbulent 2018, while also setting out his agenda.
What’s likely to be in his treatise? Páraic Duffy’s reports were wide-ranging and thought-provoking. Ryan won’t be expected to produce such quality from the outset, but an example has been set and he will hope to start as he means to go on. Here are 10 subjects he is likely to discuss:
Ryan is smart enough to know that the spin put on the joint statement with Cork (there’s been a lot of them lately — GAA/Donegal, GAA/Liam Miller testimonial organising committee, GAA/GPA) didn’t wash with most. Even if it did come a week before Christmas and it wasn’t picked up as much as it would have been at most other times of the year, the press release hardly reconciled the differences between how Cork and the GAA’s national stadium and commercial director Peter McKenna regarding the increasing costs of reconstructing and running Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Other counties with plans to redevelop their stadia are now worried what impact Cork’s over-run will have on them and if Cork can’t explain how they underestimated, then somebody has to. Backing how McKenna, a member of the GAA’s board of directors, called the situation in Ballintemple might also be wise.
Likely to be linked with the aforementioned stadium, good was done in the end, as the game went ahead at the venue. Ryan is likely to play the diplomatic card here and launch a stout defence of the GAA’s ecumenical spirit, ie the hosting of the rugby and soccer internationals as Lansdowne Road was rebuilt. It’s well known that senior GAA figures wanted the game played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh as soon as they heard of an approach, but others had to come around to such thinking.
As if the GAA didn’t bend their own rules to stage games in the off-season (Fenway Classic in Boston, Wild Geese game in Sydney), three of the provinces have raised eyebrows by organising pre-season fixtures before Christmas. On the basis of their team holidays, both Limerick and Tyrone were given permission to come back earlier than their restart dates, but the excuses for other 2019 games being held in 2018 were wishy-washy. It’s not the inter-county season that should feel constricted but the club one and, as civil as Ryan and GAA president John Horan have been to the Club Players Association, it might now be time for them to give more consideration to their views. A fixtures review is planned for later in the year, but answers — look at how Kilkenny are calling for more gaps in the inter-county season — are being demanded now.
The Kildare County Board certainly touched the zeitgeist when they stood their ground against the GAA by insisting their June Super 8 game against Mayo go ahead at St Conleth’s Park. Their stance resonated across the country and the GAA were forced to complete a U-turn. The GAA played the safety concerns card, which didn’t truly hold up to scrutiny, and Ryan’s reflections seven months on will be keenly anticipated, as the support for Kildare was based on more than just a team enjoying home advantage. When Ryan worries about how Croke Park is portrayed, this situation would have come to the forefront of his mind.
As director of finance, Ryan would have had an understanding of Galway’s financial dealings better than most and it would be remiss of him not to discuss last year’s developments. It was Croke Park that commissioned Mazars to conduct the damning independent report of their situation, as much as it corroborated the internal one set out by county treasurer Mike Burke. However, the GAA’s oversight of Galway before the alarm bells started to go off will have to be addressed.
The GAA have already plans in place to clean up the sidelines in the form of regulations as well as imposing harsher punishments for management officials becoming involved in physical altercations with players. It’s purely reactionary, but then incidents, such as the two in Austin Stack Park last year, demanded something be done. Ryan spoke in October about counties being punished if they are not seen to deal with major acts of indiscipline and he is all but certain to reaffirm this in his report.
In what turned out to be his last finance report 12 months ago, Ryan said there was no guarantee that the Super 8 would mean a jump in gate receipts and that is likely to be the case when the accounts are revealed later in the month. To suggest the Super 8 was a damp squib would be pushing it, but the series was a disappointment, not least because hurling’s supposed knee-jerk response to it in the form of the round-robin provincial championships was a huge success. The Super 8 is going nowhere for the moment and Ryan will be calling for patience.
Equalisation of funding was the phrase first used by former GAA president Liam O’Neill and, under Ryan’s watch as director of finance, a process has taken place, albeit to a small degree. There have been other wild phrases coined to describe the amount of money directed to Dublin and how it manifests itself in on-field success, but Ryan must realise that disquiet is not just about money, but also the perception Dublin receive preferential treatment, such as their senior footballers’ two Super 8 games in Croke Park. Dublin is a success story, but their advantages, from geographical to earning power, have to be kept in mind.
Ryan described some of the findings presented by the ESRI study into the demands of the inter-county game as “very sobering” and that opinion will be underpinned by the news that many players have chosen not to make themselves available for their counties in 2019. What was the greatest honour in the game is becoming a burden for many and the Carlow man’s thoughts on what the GAA are to do with the results of the report will be noted. Amateurism in the GAA sense is something Horan wants redefined and Ryan may be on a similar wavelength.
As they get down to re-negotiating a new funding deal, it’s an important year for GAA-GPA relations. They were a little cooler than usual towards the end of 2018 when new GPA chief executive Paul Flynn was looking for Gaelic football’s new experimental rules not to be implemented in the Allianz Leagues despite the GPA having representation in two stages of the decision-making. Armed with the ESRI report, the inter-county players body have a strong gambit as they look for more money, though the GAA will argue there is not much room for anything outside the existing framework.