Tom Ryan: Time for GAA to practice what we preach

New GAA director general Tom Ryan accepts the organisation’s governance of its amateur status has room for improvement.

Similar to remarks made by new president John Horan following Congress in February, the Carlow native doesn’t regard rules or penalties as a means of ensuring the ethos is enshrined, but an all-round buy-in across the organisation.

Even if it was permissible by the Association’s Official Guide, former GAA director of finance Ryan admits he would have a difficulty with managers being paid and is adamant the GAA has to practice what it preaches.

“It poses a problem on a few levels. First and foremost, on a very simple level, you can see how it imposes a significant burden on clubs and on counties just to generate the income to actually pay for those costs. 

“That’s something that creates a pressure in the association. Beyond that, from a rule point of view, we have rules and we have provisions in the rulebook at the moment that speak to that particular situation and, while they are not being observed that creates a problem, but even more fundamentally, there is a problem with us all saying that we want something, or saying that these are the values by which we want to run the association, and then doing something different. 

“So, even if it wasn’t within a rulebook, or even if there was no problem for people to pay for all these costs, I would still have a problem with it and I say that — at the same time I have the height of regard for anybody that takes on the responsibility for managing and running a team — but the way that it’s governed by ourselves at the minute does leave a bit to be desired.” 

Ryan’s predecessor Páraic Duffy proposed in a discussion paper the idea of managers receiving remuneration that was controlled and Ryan indicated the rule may need updating, even though he is adamant the answer to the amateur question is not in the rules.

“There is a bit of work to be done on the rulebook and we can tidy up the rules a little bit. I don’t know how long that particular iteration or version of the rule is in place, but things probably have moved on a little bit, so there is a bit of tidying up to be done about the rules, but the answer is not really in rules and the answer is not really in penalties; the answer is in the whole lot of us signing up to a collective set of values and vision for what we want the GAA to be, and when I say the whole lot of us, I mean every county and every unit striving towards achieving that.” 

He continued: “It’s a question of just taking a step back and looking at the totality of how we want the whole thing to be run and, if we are in an environment where there are more than a few units doing that, there is not much to be gained by singling out one, and maybe one at the mercy of its creditors. I think it’s a question for the entire association.” 

As for Horan’s hopes for a two-tier All-Ireland senior football championship before he steps down in early 2021, Ryan sees the current structure as a work in progress.

“It’s interesting, isn’t it?” said Ryan, “because in hurling that has kind of been accepted and people are happy with their place in the hurling pecking order, promotion, relegation and so on notwithstanding. Football-wise, it just seems to be more problematic and I think that is probably borne out of any county, however small, might like to think that on a given day they can get a result against one of the big boys, whereas perhaps in hurling that’s more unlikely.

“I think the shape that the championships eventually will take, it mightn’t be where we are now. I see it very much in an evolution. We’re about to embark on three years of trial or experimentation or whatever you’d call it, and I think at the end of that we’ll probably know where we need to go next in terms of the evolution. I don’t think it’s the finished article.” 

On the matter of his appointment last month, Ryan says he will be aiming to disprove some notions about him being an insider who will be predominantly influenced by financial matters.

“While I was in what was overtly a financial role, I’d like to think that my thinking wasn’t purely financial. I think finance and commercialism within the association as a means to an end is nothing more than that.

“It’s the means by which you try to accumulate the resources in order to further the other stuff that you have to do. It was no harm to a certain extent that I was coming from the financial perspective.”

Tom Ryan on...

Pay-per-view championship matches

“I respect all views on it, but what I’d ask people to do is to bear in mind that there are 140 or 150 (televised) matches over the course of the year, of which 17 are exclusively in the pay-per-view arena (17 league games on eir, 14 Championship games on Sky). There is a little bit of perspective in those numbers. Most importantly, I’d ask people to take cognisance of the fact that if we’re going to put out 200 or 300 coaches in a year, spend €5m or €6m on capital projects, we need to bring in an income. I’m always more concerned with what we do with the money, as opposed to where we take it in from. I think there is a natural balance in things in the GAA at the moment. I hope people will recognise that. We don’t operate in an environment where everything we have is for sale. We don’t want to do that.”

The GAA’s deal with GPA and GPA’s US fundraising

“Our job is to make sure that the money we’re putting into the GPA is being used for the purposes for which we want it used and I’m confident in saying that is the case. We’re putting in a specified amount under the terms of the agreement that we’ve entered into with them. They have their own responsibilities to fulfill to their own members. We wouldn’t be talking to them all the time about what their plans might be for the years ahead, but in terms of the agreement that we entered into with them, I’m happy with how it’s operating.”

The ability of the disciplinary system to deal with the new, intense championship schedule.

“The disciplinary process has stood us in good stead. It has served us very, very well. I don’t see any huge flaws in the thing. We might all have reservations about particular outcomes of particular cases, but I think the disciplinary process has served us in good stead.”

Sacrificing September as an inter-county month

“I do see a concern. That decision wasn’t taken lightly. You’re trying to weigh up the benefits of promotion in the broader sense versus the calendar pressures and getting games played in weather that is still mildly temperate, at least.”

Towards 2034 report (Unpublished report proposed that allowances be paid to inter-county managers and players)

“The report itself: There are quite a number of things in the course of any year that we’ll commission or ask people to work on or prepare a paper on and so on. It’s not really a policy statement when you do or don’t publish any of those papers. They will still generate an amount of internal debate and discussion, but we don’t publish every paper or single piece of work that’s commissioned, because even on a practical level, you would have conflicting arguments or you would be a hostage to fortune on particular elements, so it’s not a comment on that particular report, which has a lot of thought-provoking content.”

Amalgamation of counties

“Counties are one of the cornerstones of the association and, personally, I don’t see the attraction for somebody from a small county looking at a team that they’re only a small constituent part of. Your own county is your own county. If we ever got to that stage, we’d have a very different GAA and it wouldn’t have the same appeal to anyone around the table, nor to me.”


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