Thursday 20 June 2019

John Greene: Ryan must ditch accountant robes and become leader GAA needs

Tom Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
Tom Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

John Greene

Today is officially Tom Ryan's first day as the GAA's new Ard Stiúrthoir. Presumably he will take his seat in the front row of the Ard Comhairle for the Allianz League Division 1 and 2 finals and survey the scene before him, perhaps differently than he might previously have done as the Association's director of finance.

We know very little about Tom Ryan or what exactly he will bring to his new role. He has opted to wait until he is formally in the job before outlining his vision for the GAA. We do know he is an accountant, and according to one source quoted in this paper last week, he is "a safe pair of hands".

Another suggestion last week was that his time as finance director "gives him a huge advantage" because "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."

But why is that a good thing? Why, for that matter, is a 'safe pair of hands' a good thing? Many people actually believe that's the last thing the GAA needs right now.

The whole purpose of having a finance director is to make sure that the organisation's finances are in good health, to assess the viability of proposed projects, and to do all the other things that a good, er, accountant can do. By all accounts, Tom Ryan has been doing that job extremely well. In the Association's commercial wing, Peter McKenna has also been doing his job very well. McKenna and Ryan have seen to it that the GAA continues to generate a lot of money to fund its activities.

So, the GAA does not need an accountant, or a prudent financial brain, as its director general. It needs something completely different, someone with the leadership, vision and drive to arrest the Association's rapid slide into semi-professionalism and to save its soul by empowering the clubs again. The erosion of the core principles of the Association needs to be reversed. The army of volunteers across the country need to feel valued again, and they need to see the values they believe in back front and centre.

So when Tom Ryan sits behind his new desk for the first time this week, he must cast off his accountant's robes and be a leader. We can assume he has a plan because he went through an interview process. We need to know soon what this plan is. The GAA's broad membership cannot afford a 'wait and see' approach. Ryan should not seek to merely preside over the Association, applying a steady hand on the tiller. That will not be enough.

Clubs are screaming for help; rank and file members are disillusioned with how county boards are running their games programmes; county boards are panicking over the potentital impact of the new inter-county championship structures; pitches all over the country have been destroyed by being forced to stage far too many games during the worst spell of weather we have seen in decades; elite squads at underage level are creating a sense of entitlement in young players, and promoting the self over the collective; too many managers of county football and hurling are being allowed to dictate to clubs; and all the while, the strong grow stronger and the weak - well the weak have their games declared null and void because they don't really matter.

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Tom Ryan (pictured) has not spoken much in public - other than on financial matters - about the GAA, although we do know he was involved in redirecting some of the money invested in Dublin to the wider commuter belt in Leinster.

We don't have a huge amount to go on, however, in terms of his views on GAA policies. We did get some insight a few years ago in Michael Moynihan's book, GAAconomics: The Secret Life of Money in the GAA, in which Ryan talked about balancing a professional approach with an understanding of the Association.

"If you interpret professionalism as running things properly, in the right way," he said, "then that's the way everything has to be run, down to your own club, never mind the GAA as a whole. That's a world away from professionalism as many people understand the term, but it's a good discipline for the GAA to have.

"For instance, if you were interviewing people for a job in Croke Park, it's nice if the successful candidate has an interest in the games - and most of them do - but you wouldn't be doing the GAA a service if you awarded the job to the biggest hurling fan you interviewed rather than the best-qualified accountant, for instance.

"The other side of that is that you can find yourself telling GAA people how to run things, and these are people whose spare time, whose family time, is being affected by their voluntary work, and you can sense there may be a little gap between Croke Park and the club man. It's something I'd love to get rid of."

Getting rid of this 'little gap' would certainly be a good start. The reality is that there is much work to be done. Ryan cannot allow himself to become bogged down in financial matters. The new director general must worry about the health of the Association, not its bank balance. The GAA should move quickly to find a new director of finance, and it will be his or her job to worry about money.

So when he surveys the scene in Croke Park this afternoon, let's hope that Tom Ryan's calculator has been locked away . . . indefinitely.

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