John Horan: the new man from Dublin at the helm of the GAA
Incoming president has highlighted the need to attract and retain good quality volunteers
Incoming GAA president John Horan: the first Dublin native to be successfully elected to the role in 96 years. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Beyond some minor housekeeping duties, such as the exact definition of a melee, this weekend’s GAA Congress in Croke Park won’t have any great bearing on the immediate future of the Association.
For incoming GAA president John Horan, however, it will present the beginning of his opportunity to do exactly that: every GAA president sets out to leave behind some legacy, if not their mark, and Horan has already offered some hints of what that might be during his three-year term.
He already set himself apart this time last year when becoming the first Dublin native to be successfully elected in 96 years, following in the long forgotten footsteps of Daniel McCarthy, who served in the position from 1921 to 1924; although Dr JJ Stuart, from Clare, is actually the last recorded president from the capital, elected in 1958.
In all Horan will become the 39th GAA president, succeeding Aogán O Fearghaill, whose three-year term officially comes to an end on Saturday afternoon. It was at last year’s Congress that Horan swept to an unexpectedly emphatic victory to become president-elect, emerging from the largest election field since 1990 (there were five candidates running).
The now 59-year-old was elected on the first count, 10 clear of the combined total of his rivals. With that he defeated Seán Walsh from Kerry and Frank Burke from Galway, who tied for second place; the total valid poll was 278. Horan received 144, Walsh and Burke 46 each. Longford’s Martin Skelly and Robert Frost from Clare received 22 and 20 votes, respectively.)
Horan comes from Glasnevin and is a life-long member of Na Fianna, his local club which he has also managed. He’s also served as a Dublin minor football selector. In taking up the presidency he will take a leave of absence from his position of principal in St Vincent’s CBS secondary school, also in Glasnevin.
Horan referenced those Na Fianna roots during a brief speech after his election last year: “I suppose Na Fianna always had three traits. It was always on your membership. Purity in your heart, strength in your limbs, and action according to your words. That was something that was always drilled into you as a young lad in Na Fianna.
“I’m not renowned for long speeches and I’m certainly not going to change that. I would say one thing, I learned one great lesson out of all of this campaign. If you wake up at night, count sheep, don’t start counting votes.”
Horan has also set himself apart in the administrative sense in that he didn’t hold office in a county board, but rose to prominence in the secondary school sector as well as coaching, which he represented on the GAA’s Central Council. He was elected vice-chair of the Leinster Council in 2011, then became chair three years later, a post he held until January 2017, and with that began his presidential campaign.
One of the things he pointed out during his campaign was that the GAA hadn’t carried out a Strategic Review since the 2002, undertaken at the behest of then president, Seán McCague, and that may well be his first priority. He also identified club activity, and while much has been done to address the fixtures schedule during O Fearghaill’s term, that issue hasn’t gone away.
Speaking to RTÉ going into last year’s Congress, he also highlight the need to attract good quality volunteers and retain them. “The running of clubs and county boards has become far more challenging and we need to ease the pressure on those that take on these roles,” he said. “Whether it is the enormous challenge of dealing with rural decline and the impact on our clubs and communities or on the urban sprawl and its challenge for our clubs, it is our club officers on the ground who are the key.”
Dublin chief executive John Costello also identified some of Horan’s qualities: “Whether it was in a leadership role volunteering with his club at every level, serving as a selector and manager on underage inter-county teams, or overseeing the success of coaching and games development initiatives, John is someone who has always been drawn to working with people and making a contribution to help improve the association”.
One certainty, or perhaps otherwise, is that Horan’s term will coincide with the continued success of the Dublin senior football team, who this year chase a fourth successive All-Ireland title, never before achieved by the county. Whether or not Horan actually gets to present Dublin with the Sam Maguire later this summer, his term as president can hardly do their prospects any harm.