Wednesday 16 October 2019

Strategic overhaul will define Horan's presidency

John Horan Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
John Horan Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Like all good myths, it gathered momentum over the years, reaching a stage where it almost became accepted wisdom that a Dubliner had little chance of becoming GAA president.

The theory was that, however accomplished the capital contender may be, Congress would still vote for a rival from another county.

Dr JJ Stuart, elected as a Dublin candidate in 1958, was a native of Clare. That left Daniel McCarthy (1921-24) as the only native Dub to hold the position.

And then along came John Horan, who swept to a landslide victory last year, beating Frank Burke (Galway), Robert Frost (Clare), Martin Skelly (Longford) and Seán Walsh (Kerry).

He won on the first count, accumulating 140 votes, six more than the other four combined.

His overwhelming approval was in contrast to his first attempt for a senior administrative position, having been beaten by a single vote by Skelly in the 2008 election for Leinster vice-chairman.

He won the 2011 election and took over as provincial chairman three years later. His timing was perfect. His term in Leinster ended a few weeks before the presidential election, leaving him free to run.

Not only that, his three years at the Leinster helm presented an opportunity to impress the biggest province, giving him a strong power block in the presidential vote.

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He drew support from outside Leinster too, especially in Ulster, who didn't have a candidate.

That the combined efforts of four rivals failed to even force a second ballot showed how successful his campaign had been. It also laid waste to perceived anti-Dub claims.

Horan takes over at an unusual time in the GAA. At one level, it's all change with a new president and director-general arriving in Croke Park within weeks of each other, but there's also a sense that few enough big decisions will be required over the next three years.

The new formats for the All-Ireland hurling and football championships will be in place until 2020, after which they will be assessed.

No major rule changes are in the pipeline while the next GAA's media rights deal won't be on the agenda until the end of 2021.

The main issue of concern at present is the growing frustration among club players over fixture schedules, so it will be interesting to see how Horan proceeds on that front. Some progress has been made but will it be enough to correct the many imbalances in the system?

A full strategic review of the entire organisation, the first since 2002, will also be on his 'to do' list. Indeed, it could define his presidency, as a longer-term vision for the GAA is urgently needed in a rapidly-changing Ireland.

Presidential Profile

John Horan

Age: 59

Occupation: School principal (St Vincent's CBS Secondary, Glasnevin)

Background: Leinster chairman (2014-17)

Elected (2017): Won on first count (140 votes) against four opponents (134 combined)

He said: (on election): "I'm not renowned for long speeches and I'm certainly not going to change that."

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