Changes at the helm of the GAA
A new director general takes over at a unique sporting and cultural organisation
Incoming GAA director general Tom Ryan faces big challenges in guiding a unique – mass-spectator, amateur and community-based – sporting and cultural organisation. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
A busy weekend on the playing fields and the projections of a committee set up to anticipate coming challenges should not distract from the significance of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) appointing a new director general.
The job facing Tom Ryan is doubly daunting, in guiding a unique – mass-spectator, amateur and community-based – sporting and cultural organisation and also following in the footsteps of the highly regarded Páraic Duffy.
Duffy was organised and willing to hear both sides on any given issue but also prepared to advocate change and to confront the association with uncomfortable truths, such as widespread under-the-counter payments to managers.
He was also unafraid to change his mind in line with emergent evidence, as when deciding that the traditional publicity attending September All-Ireland finals had become less important than making additional time available for club activity.
Part of the GAA’s success is the stability of its governance. Ryan will be just the fifth appointment since 1929. During those years the association has maintained its centrality in Irish life and its origins in community volunteerism.
These characteristics have come under increasing pressure as the GAA has tried to optimise its commercial dealings to fund its investment in games development and capital projects.
The new DG brings useful experience to this arena after 11 years as the GAA’s director of finance, an especially demanding role during the economic collapse and one which by consensus he discharged admirably. But there is more to being the head of the GAA’s administration than finance. Recent years have featured sustained efforts to strike a new balance between the commercially vital inter-county fixtures and the vastly more numerous recreational games at local level in order to prevent the former suffocating the latter. On the horizon are many more challenges, but Tom Ryan deserves the opportunity to try his hand at navigating the GAA through the uncharted waters of the future.