Monday 19 November 2018

Ginnity: a man who can take the punches

Profile Colm Keys AS chairmen of Premiership clubs present and past, the likes of Ken Bates, 'Deadly' Doug Ellis, Milan Mandaric, David Moores have an element of celebrity attached to them. They hire, they fire, they legislate and generally make news because of the status they enjoy.

Most followers of the cross channel game would have a good stab at naming the chairmen at most Premiership clubs. Failing that, they could at least supply the name of a chief executive, or in Arsenal and David Dein's case the vice-chairman.

The same familiarity does not lend itself to the identity of County Board chairmen in the world of the GAA. They come and go and don't often make a lasting impact in the public mind. That's the nature of the job.

There are, of course, a few notable exceptions. Ask an ordinary GAA fan to name a County Board chairman outside their own county and John Bailey will invariably trip off their tongue. Dublin triggers that type of notoriety.

But for sheer longevity and intermittent controversy, Fintan Ginnity's name stands square alongside Bailey for public familiarity.

Once more, the longest-serving current chairman finds himself at the centre of a stand-off.

For Ginnity and Meath GAA, it's been an embattled year. There was the strident criticism by former player Richie Kealy over unpaid medical bills (an issue that has since been cleared up), the resignation of the entire Hurling Board over yet another fixtures crux, and the departure of Seán Boylan after 23 years of smooth relations with the Board which paved the way for Eamonn Barry's appointment. Meath even voted to temporarily open Croke Park by an overwhelming majority earlier this year, something that Ginnity himself would be diametrically opposed to.

Now there is the current stand-off which has engulfed a county once renowned for washing its dirty linen in private.

On this latest issue, Ginnity maintains it's not personal and he is merely enforcing the views of his Management Committee.

But Eamonn Barry has clashed with him before and last year called for his resignation amidst strong claims that he had canvassed clubs to vote for Boylan who eventually beat Barry 50-37 in a vote for the manager's job.

The criticism by Kealy, the Rule 42 vote, the departure of Boylan, and the stance taken by the county's Hurling Board in protest at remarks made by Ginnity at a fixtures meeting, are being taken as sign of a weakening grip after 20 years.

But to assume that would be to underestimate the administrative battling qualities of Ginnity. If he had a boxing equivalent, it would have to be Roberto Duran. He has shipped some punishment in the past but he takes it, and gets on with it.

A club official could have a row with him one day and meet him the next time as if nothing happened.

Whatever view he takes, he sticks with and implicitly believes in it whether it's right or wrong in other people's eyes. It's authoritarian, old-style and can be confrontational. In 20 years, there's hardly a club in Meath that hasn't found itself sparring with him over some issue.

He has his hands on every tiller. Meath's chairman simply doesn't do delegation. It can be a problem more than a virtue. Whether it's tickets, keeping substitutes off the playing surface in Navan at half-time or gathering jerseys after an inter-county game, Ginnity will invariably entrust the responsibility to himself to get the job done.

He keeps a tight reign on everything and it was by this approach that he found himself in the dressing room in Nenagh handing out jerseys to the junior team managed by Martin Barry before the 2003 All-Ireland final when the alleged incidents that led to Barry and Dessie Rogers' suspensions occured.

It hasn't all been confrontation and hardline approach in his 20 years, far from it. In his early years, his efforts to redevelop Páirc Tailteann were exhaustive. Meath's finances have been quite healthy too thanks in no small way to his own financial acumen which stems from his days in the leasing and banking business.

And by and large, fixtures and games administration run smoothly with the odd exception.

Over the years, challenges to his position have been few and far between. Potential candidates have been in short supply, perhaps not tempted by the apparent workload.

Brendan Dempsey has run against him three times in the last few years. Twice he wasn't even in the same parish.

Dempsey has declared his candidacy for chairman again at next month's convention when loyalty to Ginnity, in the wake of the hurling affair and the stand-off with the new senior manager, will be sternly tested.

Dempsey must feel he's in with a good chance. The calls for glasnost have increased since Boylan's departure which was quickly followed by a change in sponsor.

But for all the spats, scraps, rows and stand-offs there is still an inherent respect for a man now well in to his 70s who has invested so much time into the running the affairs of Meath GAA.

He hasn't always been right, but he hasn't always been wrong either. This latest episode threatens to be his biggest battle yet however.

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