Success of championship format a priority for new GAA boss

Director general Tom Ryan says there will still be 45 live championship games on TV

In a wide-ranging first media conference as GAA director general, Tom Ryan dealt with a number of current issues as well as longer-term concerns in Croke Park on Tuesday.

Only in office a couple of weeks, the GAA’s former director of finance said that the issue looming largest on his horizon was the new championship experiment, which will see round-robin formats in the provincial hurling championships as well as the last eight of All-Ireland football.

Asked what he thought would constitute a good year in 2018, he cited the above changes.

“First and foremost in my mind is the championship that’s ahead and given all of the talk and debate and work that went into formulating what that structure should be, a good year will be a year that the two championships have captured the imagination of the public, that have reached the heights or perhaps surpassed the playing standards of the previous couple of years.


“A good year will be one where participation numbers are advancing and are moving in the right direction relevant to 2016 and 2017. A good year will be one where we perhaps see one or two teams emerging and competing at levels that they haven’t done in recent years.

“A good year will be one where we’ve made advances on some of the things that we’ve talked about in terms of club structures and club fixtures and people being able to avail of the opportunity afforded for April time.”

On the issue of how successful the idea of this month as primarily for club activity has been, Ryan was unsurprisingly cautious.

“It’s the 17th of April, it’s maybe a little bit early to say. I’m hearing lots of anecdotal stuff but we’ll know at the end of April definitively in terms of the volume of games that have been played.”

The most newsworthy statement was probably the confirmation that the GAA would not be increasing the number of televised championship matches, currently 45, despite the greater number of high-profile fixtures arising from the round robins. The association wouldn’t be “changing the nuts and bolts of the arrangement,” until the current agreement concludes in 2021.

Ryan also defended the subscription broadcast deals with eir and Sky, pointing out that just 14 championship matches weren’t on terrestrial television.

Big step

“Most importantly, I’d ask people to take cognizance of the fact that if we’re going to put out 200 or 300 coaches in a year, spend five or six million on capital projects, we need to bring in an income.

“I’m always more concerned with what we do with the money as opposed to where we take it in from. I think there is a natural balance in things in the GAA at the moment. I hope people will recognise that. We don’t operate in an environment where everything we have is for sale. We don’t want to do that.”

The thorny subject of a tiered championship for less successful counties – who have generally opposed the concept – was also raised. The director general emphasised that the current trial was about evolution, he added: “I don’t think it’s the finished article and I think it’s well worth having the debate around the things that have been mentioned”.

Of all the experiments being conducted over the next three years, the most novel is perhaps All-Ireland finals vacating September. Ryan admitted that it was a big step to withdraw from what was the highest-profile month in the GAA calendar.

“I do see a concern. That decision wasn’t taken lightly. You’re trying to weigh up the benefits of promotion in the broader sense versus the calendar pressures and getting games played in weather that is still mildly temperate at least,” but he added that there were, “lots of things over the course of the history of the association that might have enjoyed similar status and have been changed. Things move on and new traditions are established all the time.”

He was asked about the report of the ‘Towards 150’ committee, which deliberated the challenges likely to face the GAA on its 150th anniversary in 2034 and specifically its concerns on the association’s governance but which is not going to be published.

“Sometimes we focus a bit too much on the negative side of things, the things that aren’t working as well as you might like. That’s not to say for a minute that you dismiss some of the deficiencies or to say that there’s not areas of improvement. But if you look at where we are, where we started and the pre-eminent position we have in Irish society, I think we are well positioned to address the years ahead – very well positioned.

Internal debate

“The report itself – there are quite a number of things in the course of any year that we’ll commission or ask people to work on or prepare a paper on and so on; it’s not really a policy statement when you do or don’t publish any of those papers.

“They will still generate an amount of internal debate and discussion but we don’t publish every paper or single piece of work that’s commissioned because even on a practical level, you would have conflicting arguments or you would be a hostage to fortune on particular elements so it’s not a comment on that particular report, which has a lot of thought-provoking content.”

On the matter of the occasionally contentious in-house arrangement with the Gaelic Players Association he said that he was "happy with how it's operating," and pointed out that there is often a failure to distinguish between subventions that go to the counties for county player-related expenses and those that go to the GPA as an organisation.