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Frank Roche: ‘GAA lucky its leaders lack the ‘cult of John Delaney”


'The GAA has no reason for smugness: it has enough headaches of its own'
‘The GAA has no reason for smugness: it has enough headaches of its own’

The generals of Jones’s Road could be forgiven a touch of schadenfreude this week as they digest the pitiful disintegration of all things FAI: its leadership crumbling, its reputation in tatters, its future funding mired in uncertainty.

That said, revelling in the discomfort of others has a tendency to come back and bite you at the height of your hubris.

Moreover, the GAA has no reason for smugness: it has enough headaches of its own. They include the ongoing fixture calendar conundrum; the ever more audible rumbles of a disconnect between Croke Park and the grassroots; the conflicting demands of club and county; and last year’s hard-to-ignore 18pc decrease in attendances for the All-Ireland SFC and SHC series (equating to 14pc in gate receipts).

You can blame Mayo’s early exit or a reduction in replay revenue, or both, but an undeniable factor was the recent failure of football (not hurling) to deliver a championship that keeps us all constantly guessing and neutrals entertained.

Still, you’d take all of those problems ahead of the omnishambles out in Abbotstown. But could it actually happen in Croker?

We don’t think so, for lots of reasons to do with GAA HQ’s long-established and well-earned reputation for financial probity.

This is not to say fiscal crises never erupt on Planet Gael; anything but. It has happened in more than one county board; we’ve had the saga of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh overspend; most glaringly of all were the reports (made public last December) into the financial mismanagement of Galway GAA’s affairs.

A common thread in all this, however, is of Croke Park’s number-crunching knights riding to the rescue of their embattled members on the ground.

Here’s another reason, though, why the Gaelic Athletic Association would never allow itself become the Farcical Association of Ireland … when it comes to administrators, it has never been in thrall to celebrity leaders in the same way that the FAI has embraced the ‘cult of John Delaney’.

A worrying percentage of soccer officials, at grassroots level, seemed to believe that their ‘former CEO/stepping aside executive vice-president/future God-only-knows’ was the font of all good and more especially all grant-aid.

It was an impressive trick while he managed to pull it off. Once The Sunday Times and others in the media started to unravel the emperor’s clothes and laid bare the deficits in corporate governance, it quickly became obvious that the FAI’s modus operandi was unsustainable.

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When Sports Ireland pulls the plug on all of its funding, it’s not as if Delaney (above) (for all of his earlier 100k largesse) can compensate. Ditto when sponsors get nervous.

Now compare this to the GAA’s leadership model. It’s true that certain counties have had full-time officers whose influence can seem all-powerful – Cork under Frank Murphy were the most obvious example, but John Costello has been the recurring denominator in Dublin football’s rise to world domination.

Yet at HQ level, the director-general of his day quietly goes about his business without ever becoming a lightning rod for tennis ball protests. He doesn’t turn up at an Oireachtas committee quoting legal advice (at least he didn’t claim the Fifth) as a reason for playing dumb.

Liam Mulvihill was the GAA’s top paid official for close on three decades – a lot longer than Delaney spent in situ. Páraic Duffy was there for a decade.

Both men knew how to wield their influence without becoming the subject of national controversy, let alone ridicule. Tom Ryan is already showing signs of steering a similar path.

The FAI in its next iteration, preferably after a clear-out of the old guard, should take note.

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