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Sunday 16 June 2019

Former finance director Ryan unveiled as GAA's director-general

Tom Ryan has a strong background in finance. Photo: Sportsfile
Tom Ryan has a strong background in finance. Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

The GAA yesterday formally unveiled Tom Ryan as its next director-general to succeed Páraic Duffy, who is stepping down from the position at the end of the month after ten years. Ryan, an accountant, has been the GAA's director of finance for a decade, a relatively low-key figure most commonly seen when presenting the GAA's annual accounts.

Ryan beat off challenges from two other candidates who made the final shortlist after a series of interviews, including former GAA president Liam O'Neill and the 2010 Tipperary All-Ireland-winning hurling manager Liam Sheedy. All three had made it to a final interview, with O'Neill and Ryan having applied for the position when last advertised ten years ago.

A native of Carlow and married with a young family, Ryan is treasurer of the Faughs club in south Dublin. "I suppose some would call him conservative because he is an accountant," says one source who has worked with him on GAA committees. "But he is very much an ordinary, down-to-earth GAA guy. There are no airs and graces about him. He wouldn't push himself into the limelight. You could call him a safe pair of hands, though he might not like it put like that."

While Ryan is virtually unknown among the wider membership, he has proven popular around the counties in working with board representatives and on central committees. A source described him as "careful but prudent" and also "far-seeing" before explaining: "He wouldn't rush into decisions; he would look at the big picture, the long-term implications."

Duffy came to the position with a higher national profile, but Ryan's strategic link to finance offered him a strong selling point with the GAA now a massive money-spinning organisation that recycles most of its profits into key development areas.

"It gives him a huge advantage because he has his finger on the pulse in terms of finance," says a source. "Immediately, if anything is proposed he will see the financial implications of it. If he comes up with initiatives he will know instinctively if they are financially viable."

Former GAA President Seán Kelly said: "I think in some respects the fact that he came in and was unknown to the vast majority of people is a good indication that the GAA is open to everybody and they can progress by working hard and showing their qualities. He has done a very good job in terms of managing the finances and presenting them to Congress in a very practical and understanding way.

"There is always a danger in an Association like the GAA that you will get a big ego as ard stiúrthóir. You don't want a situation where the CEO is the big chief and the president is almost unknown. I think Tom will be less forceful perhaps at Congress than Páraic. When he saw something was needed he took the mic; Liam Mulvihill never did that. Maybe Tom will too, in a gentle way."

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Ryan worked closely with clubs and counties who encountered financial hardship after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, with some clubs left carrying millions of euro in debt. The sensitive and discreet manner in which he dealt with those issues at the time was highly admired from within the organisation.

"I don't think he will be as outspoken as Páraic, putting himself forward as much," says a source. "He will be much more reserved. More deliberate. He is a very able individual when he speaks, most of the time in relation to finance. He always has his facts right. He is very clear."

Two years ago, Ryan responded to criticism of a heavy funding imbalance favouring Dublin, where almost 50 per cent of all development funding was being directed. "It's a tricky one and it's one that I don't mind admitting," he said. "The short answer is 'no'; it won't persist over the course of the next few years. There's not going to be a revolutionary change to it. We'll change it in evolutionary terms rather than in one fell swoop."

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