GAA's latest director-general will be practical, competent and cautious in new leadership role
Tom Ryan’s tone was measured, his words were carefully chosen and his points were well made.
But anyone expecting a radical or revolutionary message, or even a 100-day action plan beloved of new chief executives or even commanders-in-chief, from the GAA’s new director-general in the Coiste Bainistí room on Croke Park’s level five, where he conducted his first media briefing yesterday, would have been left disappointed. Not that many expected such a radical shift off course in the first place anyway.
As Ryan was keen to point out, there are more people playing the games, more people watching the games and more interest in the games than at any stage in the past. And as he also pointed out, there is only so much of his own vision for the years ahead that he can impose himself.
“I learned that very much when I came in, 10 or 11 years ago, it’s not the case that you can just decide, ‘This is what we’re going to do and everybody does it.’ You can decide this is what we’re going to do now and you can enter into a prolonged period of coaxing and cajoling and convincing people to do it. I don’t think it’s the sole preserve of my position and I think the vision that the GAA will advance with will be a shared vision.”
But there were few indications that the new man feels the need to plot a different path to what his predecessor Páraic Duffy had set out during arguably the most reformative decade that the office of director-general has undergone.
He described as “a little unfair” any perception that, as director of finance for 11 years, his position as a Croke Park ‘insider’ would constrain him in making changes to already existing policy, but added that it’s “incumbent upon me to make my mark on the thing while I’m there”.
“I have a little bit of insight into how the GAA works and how change can be brought about in an organisation that is, I suppose of its nature, inherently conservative but it (past role) shouldn’t be presented as an impediment to getting things done or achieving things or to perhaps changing things.”
On some of the more vexed issues of recent years there was, not unexpectedly, no evidence of a policy shift. The relationship with the GPA is “important”, he said, adding he was “broadly happy” with it. On the scale of the money the GAA sets aside annually for the players’ body, Ryan said there was confusion as a large amount of it was paid directly to players for additional mileage (15 cent out of 65 cent) on top of a nutrition allowance. Thus, it couldn’t be construed as the headline €6.9m figure routinely quoted.
On their US fundraising ventures, he stressed that it was the GAA’s priority that money given to the GPA is spent on what it is intended for.
“They have their own responsibilities to fulfil to their own members – we would be talking to them all the time about what their plans might be for the years ahead.”
The Sky Sports broadcast deal will remain in place too until 2021 without change and the need to create competitive market terms echoed his predecessor’s views. No operation can run successfully without sufficient money to invest.
“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 five or six million 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.”
Naturally, there was a ‘wait and see’ approach adopted to the calendar and competition reforms under way while a move towards a two-tier football championship, championed by GAA president John Horan in his first few days, drew a guarded response.
Ryan is originally from Carlow and understands the value that less successful counties place on being involved in the mainstream championship. But it’s something “worth looking at,” he admitted.
Naturally, he was receptive to a better balance being struck on the interface between county and club. As ever, the ‘how’ was the tricky bit.
He didn’t see much difference between what the Club Players Association want and existing GAA policy but believes more local, rather than central solutions, are preferable.
“The GAA is built from the ground up and that does entail a significant amount of local authority and local control. The job of delivering the objectives of the CPA will be trying to harness local county committees and making sure that fixture programmes that are derived locally fulfil what all club players want and what the Association wants, not just the CPA.”
But an even earlier conclusion to the championships is something he doesn’t see much scope for.
On the advance of professionalism and payment to managers Ryan reiterated Duffy’s words to Congress in 2010 on the issue that prompted a subsequent report.
“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.”
On the GAA’s decision not to publish the ‘Towards 2034’ report that proposes far-reaching changes to the running of the Association including an allowance for inter-county players, Ryan said it wasn’t always policy to publish commissioned reports, adding that the Association and its administrative layers were “fit for purpose”.
“Sometimes we focus a bit too much on the negative side of things, the things that aren’t working as well as you might like. That’s not to say for a minute that you dismiss some of the deficiencies or to say that there’s not areas of improvement.”
A quote that perhaps best encapsulated his broad view of the landscape – practical, competent but cautious.