THE GAA’s new president Christy Cooney has rejected the notion that’s he’s a conservative at heart, believing it’s a tag that has stuck because of his views on certain issues, such as the opening up of Croke Park.
The 56-year-old Youghal man assumed office in his home county on Saturday, four years after the heartbreak of losing the presidential race to his predecessor Nickey Brennan. However, he believes the wait has helped him and made his elevation to the GAA’s top job all the sweeter.
“Have I regrets about being beaten? Absolutely none because the GAA was in very sold and extremely good hands and it made winning in Sligo last year all the sweeter. And having continued to work at national level, as I did for the last four years, gives you greater understanding of the Association and what you believe is needed. We went through the process of introducing a strategic plan that gives a plan of action which we need to deliver on for the next seven years and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of that process.”
In terms of his public perception, Cooney commented: “When you read what people say about you, you wonder sometimes if it’s you. I believe I bring strength of character and I believe genuinely that I have no ill-feeling towards anybody. I have had differences with people of course in the GAA down through the years but you move on and I like to deal in issues rather than personalities.
“I bring a knowledge of the administrative workings of the Association which is so important in a position like this, but I also bring something that all former Presidents have brought with them - we have come from grass roots, from clubs that have nurtured us over many years. And we come from families that are steeped in the Association.
“Therein lies the real presence that you need to have within your body and soul to be a President — that you understand what the Association is about and you strive to strengthen it. I hope I bring qualities of leadership, a decent quality of style, a decent quality of standards the GAA would require of me and the presence to move the Association forward in the future with good strategic and planning processes.”
He dismisses the notion of being a conservative, pointing to his track record both in Cork - where he made significant changes in the administration process in the County Board - and at Munster Council level where he made serious strides in the whole area of management.
“I would say that conservative is a tag that lives with you because you don't agree with a certain policy at a certain time. Everybody has that in their make-up one way or another, but the most important thing in the make-up of any president is that they do what is right for the Association at the right time. I hope I have the experience and the knowledge to be able to make that call when it’s necessary and do what's right by the Association and for the Association.”
On the issue of opening Croke Park for rugby and soccer, he pointed out that he had held ‘steadfast views’ for a long time and that it would have been hypocritical to change for the sake of getting more votes (for his presidential bid). However, he stressed that he had never criticised the opening up of the stadium and always made it clear that he would democratically support whatever decision was reached. He admits the move did the Association a power of good.
Cooney also conceded it was a relief that the Cork hurling dispute had been resolved in advance of him taking office, expressing the hope that the establishment of player and manager charters would ensure that ‘this type of issue' would never be allowed happen again in any county.
“The County Board have put a strategic plan in place to look at the structures and see where the Association needs to develop in Cork and I welcome that. I also welcome the appointment of Denis Walsh and say we owe a great deal of thanks to Denis Coughlan, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and John Fenton for the work they did on behalf of Cork and the Association.
“There were no winners in this situation and a lot of people have been hurt, both personally and otherwise. Please God, everybody will move forward, get behind the players, get behind the County Board and get the clubs working together. Cork as a city and as a county is crucial to the on-going development of the Association.
“The biggest loser in all of this was Gerald McCarthy, a man of the highest integrity, who has given outstanding service to Cork. I was deeply sorry that he and his family were so wounded through the process because no one deserves that type of treatment.”
Completing the process of formal recognition of the Gaelic Players Association isn’t a major priority for Cooney, he revealed yesterday.
“I have to give the matter some thought over a period of time. I'm not going to rush into looking at the recognition process. To some degree I have some more important issues on my agenda and the GPA will happen in time. If it doesn't happen we'll have to see where we go from here.”
For Cooney personally, one of the highlights of the weekend was thesupport he received from many people from Youghal, describing it as‘phenomenal’. He was thrilled that All-Ireland hurlers Willie Walsh, Pat Hegarty and Sean O'Leary werepresent, along with Noel Gallagher, another former Cork player and long-time family friend.
Having gone back as Youghal chairman after his 2005 defeat, Cooney has a deep appreciation of the challenges facing clubs. And, in an effort to improve the communications process, he has set up an ‘Eisteacht’ (listening) process, whereby he will visit 120 clubs over the course of his term.
“We will be talking to clubs and listening to what they have to say. Sometimes in Croke Park we are a bit distant, so, every now and then it's good to listen to the grassroots — what they have to say and what we need to do to support them.”
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