In the wake of controversies at county level, Kilmacud Crokes member and senior investment banker, Joan Kehoe, says grassroots GAA needs governance reform, writes.
Leading business woman Joan Kehoe is calling on the GAA to show “firm guidance” in the area of governance immediately.
In the wake of controversies in Galway and Mayo, Wexford native Kehoe, global head of alternative investment services at JP Morgan, says Croke Park has no time to waste in educating and empowering volunteers in officer positions at both county and club level.
As well as being a prominent member of Kilmacud Crokes, Kehoe is also on the national executive of the Club Players Association, and was part of the selection panel that chose Tom Ryan as Páraic Duffy’s successor as GAA director general.
While not referring to Mayo by name, she stresses the need for utmost transparency when a benefactor is willing to support the pursuits of a county. But clearly presenting how much and why money is taken in and taken out, she says, is a necessity across the board.
“The days of not having qualified people in those volunteer roles are gone. With the best will in the world, it takes a huge amount of time and commitment. As clubs and counties have grown and become more successful, the demands on them have also grown significantly.
“An adjustment in the thought process in filling these roles is needed, and possibly that hasn’t filtered right across the country, and I think that’s why we have seen what we’ve seen.
“I would never cast aspersions on any individual who gives up the amount of time they give up to be part of any GAA set-up be it club or county because it is enormous.
“I hope we will never move away from the concept of the GAA as an organisation in the community and of the community — it is so important — but I think there is going to have to be increased focus on people with the right skill sets filling these roles and then everybody around them buying into what they try to implement.
Nobody wants to see the headlines that have come out of some counties, and we certainly don’t want to be seen in the same light as other sports organisations. I’d like to see firm guidance coming from Croke Park now in light of all these things.
“This doesn’t have to be over-complicated. Most clubs and counties, the numbers involved should be relatively easily controlled, monitored and tracked.
“I’m not talking about chartered accounts but producing basic guidelines that at a minimum every club and county executive in the country has to follow and properly vouched and stood over. You have to recognise it’s an enormous volunteer effort.”
For that reason, the criticism aimed at officers rankles her but they need assistance. Mike Connelly, who stepped down as Mayo chairman last month, spoke of the lack of help from Croke Park and that needs to change, Kehoe says.
“People who are willing to step up and be counted should never be vilified, particularly when it’s a simple lack of having the right experience or background. Child welfare would be up there with finance in terms of responsibility. You have to make sure everyone in those roles has the right training. How many clubs have been trained on GDPR?
“County boards have a role in filtering that information out to their clubs. There’s increased focus and scrutiny now on anyone who is handling financial affairs in any organisation, and quite rightly.
“I don’t like the rhetoric against some of the people in the counties mentioned this past while and it’s entirely unacceptable. In most of these situations, it’s more a lack of transparency than anything suggestion of fraud or anything of that nature.”
However, Kehoe is absolute in her insistence on full disclosure particularly when major patrons or sponsors are willing to contribute.
“When do go down the road of working with a benefactor or indeed a significant sponsor it’s incumbent on any county or club to be very transparent and ultimately it’s about that and not having any grey areas.
“Any of us involved in the GAA just want it to grow and flourish and it will only do that with volunteer effort and you don’t want to put something in place that’s so onerous that it actually takes away from that or acts as a deterrent. You want something so that people stay involved but you need much clearer guidelines.”
Kehoe fully appreciates she speaks from a position of advantage as a Crokes member, where the amount of expertise never mind members is significant.
“It’s very easy to say when you’re sitting in Kilmacud with thousands of members. Our club is as big as many counties, I suspect, in terms of membership and thankfully we have a significant number of hugely passionate GAA people who are prepared to give their time.
“That exists around the country but the difficulty is trying to marry that in a small, rural club with people with the right experience. If you’re an accountant with a young family giving up a night or two a week is a big ask.
“Realistically, it does take up a lot of time. But if there were clear, basic guidelines set out for everyone to follow I think that would lessen the burden for GAA units somewhat.” Kehoe knows from personal experience that clubs are keen to improve how they do their business. “There is an increasing appetite to reach out. I know I’ve been approached a couple of times by clubs to talk to them about what model to put in place and how to make it work.
“Long may it continue, but there has been a big growth in retention and female participation, and that is adding to members. I’m not talking about anything here other than having enough footballs, nets, small mobile goals for nurseries.
All of those are expenses and no matter what size the club is you still have the same core principles that you need to provide for those kids coming in or the senior sides. Taking as much online and having an auditable process and a clearly defined one when things can’t be online or aren’t online is necessary.
As for the idea of changing how county board executives are appointed to ensure the best suited people are in positions of authority, Kehoe replies: “I’m a great believer in democracy — but I have to say, on occasion, a benign dictatorship isn’t a bad thing. Why do I mean by that? Well, a treasurer could be one of them.
“That’s one role where there could be a consideration for the chairman appointing somebody to that role.
“Given the amount of work involved, I’d say it’s a long time since a vote to become treasurer was a popularity contest. I’d admire anybody who puts up their hand for that role. In Crokes, we have a treasurer for each section and then an executive treasurer and I see first hand the amount of time and effort those people put in — it’s extraordinary.”