Co-oifigigh Choiste Chontae is a cháirde uilig, is mór an onóir agus an pribhléid dom a seasaimh ós bhur gcóir arís i ndeireadh mo thréimhse mar Chathaoirligh Choiste Chontae Chorcaí.
As we come to the end of the strangest year in living memory, it is my great privilege to address you for the final time as Chairperson of Cork County Board.
On this occasion, I must begin with some words of thanks, and I owe such gratitude to so many that I’m certain I’ll forget someone, so sincere apologies if I do! My particular thanks to our Executive, who have, as always, done an outstanding job in both supporting myself and Kevin and holding us to account. Their absolute commitment to Cork GAA is evident in all their work, and I am very grateful to them for their continued dedication. I would like to particularly note the contributions of Coaching Officer, Ronan Dwane and Children’s Officer, Des Cullinane, who like me, conclude their terms of office tonight and who have done trojan work over the last three years, not just in their own areas of expertise, but across the board, and whose support and effort I really appreciated. The variety of differing viewpoints in a 14-person executive can often be challenging, particularly as my fellow officers and executive members down through the years have generally been passionate people with strong views, and this year was even more difficult with most of our meetings online. However, we generally managed our discussions in a respectful manner, even when views were widely divergent, and I had huge admiration for how quickly this year’s Executive adapted to and embraced technology to ensure that we could continue to meet regularly. I would also like to pay tribute to our incoming Chairperson, Marc Sheehan, who brings with him a wealth of experience and a steady hand, vice-chairperson, Pat Horgan, one of the most hard-working members of our Executive, Children’s Officer, Eoghan O’Connor, an old friend from our East Cork Board days, Development Officer Noel O’Callaghan, who has been a very valued officer and Executive member to date, and Coaching Officer, Jerry Walsh, who returns to the Board after a previous term as Irish & Cultural Officer. Our esteemed president, Mick Barry, concludes his term with me tonight, and I wish him all the very best as he does so. Former County Chairperson, Brian Barrett, will succeed him in the role, and it is a well-earned honour for Brian. My thanks to each and every one of you for your work, and I wish you all well in your future endeavours.
I cannot let this occasion pass without noting the immense contribution of our CEO, Kevin O’Donovan. Since he took up the role two years ago, his energy, vision and commitment to the entire Cork GAA project have been second to none, and the skill with which he has juggled the many demands of the County Board, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and new projects like One Cork, along with his various other responsibilities have regularly left me in awe. He has been both an inspiration to me and a prudent guiding presence when I have needed that, and I am very grateful to him for his vision in seeing where change was required and his support of my own change agenda. My most sincere thanks to you, Kevin. I have every confidence in him/you to drive Cork GAA forward with the energy it requires, and I look forward to us all enjoying the fruits of his/your labour in the future.
Thanks to our Munster Council delegates, Michael Byrne, who also doubles up as our event controller, and Ger Lane, and to all the team here in the offices at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, without whose support our roles as volunteers would be impossible.
Thanks as always to our stewards, our referees and our event teams, without whom we just couldn’t operate. I must note the contribution of Richard Murphy to the running of our games here at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this year, and in overseeing the facilities of the stadium. As always, he continues to play a hugely valuable role in our operations. Thanks to all who serve on our many sub-committees, particularly our Divisional Boards, who make a huge contribution to our organisation, and the many unseen committees who work quietly in the background but whose work is vital to Cork GAA.
Thanks to our many sponsors, whose relationships are so important to us, and particularly to our main sponsors, Chill Insurance, whose support has been vital to our operations, and to our newest partners, Bons Secours Cork, Co-op Superstores and The Irish Examiner, who expressed the ultimate vote of confidence in Cork GAA by coming on board with us in this most difficult of years.
I also want to express particular thanks to Uachtarán John Horan, Árd-Stiúrthóir, Tom Ryan and GAA Financial Controller Ger Mulryan for their continued support in relation to Páirc uí Chaoimh, and to the other members of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium board for their commitment to the project, of which more later.
As always, my most sincere thanks to all our inter-county players and management teams, who not only provide us with so much joy and excitement, but who are fantastic ambassadors for Cork both on and off the field. Teams and games are at the heart of our Association, and without their dedication, Cork GAA would not be what it is today. I consider myself hugely privileged to have worked with such impressive people during my nine years as an officer of Cork County Board, and I thank you all not just for your commitment to Cork, but for the respect, courtesy and support you offered me during my involvement.
Thanks as always to my club, Killeagh, for their unwavering support over many years – I would not have had this honour without you. One of the things I’m most looking forward to is the opportunity to return to work in my club, because for all of us, wherever we go in between, club is where it starts and club is where it ends. I have to take a moment here to remember Seán Murphy, who, along with Junior Scully and the late Tom Fitzgibbon, brought me to my first Convention, was here three years ago for my elevation to the role of chairperson, but sadly passed away earlier this year and is a huge loss to our community and our club. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Thanks also to my employers, Cork ETB, and work colleagues at Carrignafoy Community College, without whose understanding my role would have been much harder to manage, and to our media friends for their professionalism, co-operation and hard work in the promotion of Gaelic Games, which goes far beyond the requirements of their jobs. I have been lucky enough to enjoy very positive relationships in this area since I started out as PRO, and as I say goodbye, I wish you all the very best going forward.
As always, my deepest gratitude to my family and close friends, without whom life would be very empty indeed. Our family has expanded recently, as I’ve been blessed with a little niece, Charlotte, to join my adorable nephew, Hugo, and I look forward to watching them grow up and to spending more time with their parents, my sister Mary and brother-in-law Killian, and of course, my mother Helen who has been and continues to be a huge inspiration to me. As for my wonderful, patient, understanding friends, well I hope they’ll stick with me now that the possibility of All-Ireland tickets is vastly reduced!!!
And of course, my most sincere thanks to you, the clubs of Cork and your County Board delegates, for your continued support, through good times and bad. I have missed you all so much in this past year. Thank you for your courage, your integrity and your commitment to Cork GAA, and on a personal note, I can never thank you enough for the opportunity you have given me to chair Cork GAA for the past three years. I may not have delivered all that you had hoped, but I sincerely hope that I haven’t let you down.
There is one further group that I must mention, and that group consists of the many mentors I have had down through the years of my involvement in the GAA. I have been truly blessed, and to them all I owe a huge debt of gratitude. I’m almost afraid to start naming names, but I cannot let this
occasion pass without doing so. At club level, Tommy Seward and Ray Rochford were early influences, along with Junior Scully and the late Seán Murphy and Tom Fitzgibbon. Moving on to the East Cork Board, I was privileged to work with Willie Ring, who taught me so much about the rules of the GAA, and whose sage expressions I still find myself repeating often, particularly his conviction that the problem with common sense is that it’s not so common! During the years in which I was a delegate, the East Cork Board was chaired by Ger Lane, another mentor, friend and role model of mine, whose path I’ve been honoured to follow to this point and who encouraged me every step of the way. At County Board level, of course, I entered the circle of influence of Frank Murphy, the greatest GAA administrator of them all, who was always generous with his advice, and Denis Hurley of Sarsfields has been a huge support to me over many years. In recent years, both John Mullins and Michael O’Flynn of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium board have been incredible resources for me. Dr Con Murphy, a true font of wisdom, has been a mentor and friend since the earliest days of my involvement with Cork. In my time as County PRO, then GAA Director of Communications, Lisa Clancy, was an important influence on me, as was our then sponsor liaison, Catherine Tiernan, and I’ve always been supported and encouraged by Tipperary’s Liz Howard, the first ever female County Board officer, not to mention my colleague on the Waterford County Board, Emer Barry, who also ends her current term as County Development officer tonight. There are, of course, many others who have supported me along the journey, with a text message here or a phonecall there, particularly at the most challenging times, and to all of you, I am eternally grateful. Leaders don’t create followers, said Tom Peters, they create more leaders, and I am lucky to have been shaped by many great leaders.
Reflecting on this year, while an immensely difficult one for all of us, whether on a personal, professional or sporting level, it has certainly had the positive effect of placing the club firmly front and centre of our Association, in its rightful position. When Covid hit last March, our clubs stepped into the breach with impressive agility, reminding us all strongly of the community aspect of our association. Whether in support of national initiatives like the Centra/SuperValu Club Together, those organised by our City and County Councils, working locally to raise funds for charity and in so many other ways, you as clubs made a phenomenal contribution to our country in this past year, and I hope that the value of the GAA as an association will be acknowledged by our leaders going forward.
At a local, sporting level, I am delighted that we were able to play our club championships in their new format, albeit not quite to a conclusion. For years, I’ve wanted to try something different with our County Championships, and I am delighted that you, our clubs, finally took the brave step of agreeing this new format which I think was incredibly successful and will, most importantly, lead to more competitive championships and higher standards all round, which of course is the ultimate goal.
Another highlight of the year for us all was the success of the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch. The failure of the previous pitch was one of the lowest points of my turbulent term, but thanks to the efforts of the stadium board, the leadership of the Uachtarán, the professionalism of SIS pitches and the commitment of people like John Murphy of Goldcrop along with our grounds team led by Stephen Forrest, we now have one of, if not the, best pitches in the country and one we can all be proud of. Our stadium is now almost where it needs to be – there are some infrastructural adjustments planned to get it to that level, of which you’ll be hearing more in due course, and we are very grateful to Cork City Council for their co-operation in this, and of course to Michael O’Flynn on the stadium side – but the pitch is absolutely central to everything we do so it is a vital success that it is now in the shape that it is. As I’ve said before, Páirc Uí Chaoimh is our home, the spiritual and physical home of Cork GAA, as well as a wonderful asset to the the city, and it is a stadium that generations will be proud of long after the current challenges are a distant memory.
It is a matter of regret to me, that while I was immensely proud to be the first female officer of this board, I now leave it with no women coming behind me. We talk a lot about integration, and there’s much discussion at the moment about the necessity for our men’s and women’s games to be run by one national body, which I firmly believe is the case, but the GAA itself as an association leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to gender balance. The easy answer is to say that we are a body that runs men’s games, but that’s only part of the story. Women’s attendance at our games is growing constantly, there are many women involved in various roles at club level, and even if there weren’t, various economic studies have shown that organisations with greater gender balance are more successful. As clubs and as a county, we need to look at what we can do to encourage more women to take on leadership roles. Women are often slower to put themselves forward than men are, and may need to be convinced that they have the skills for a particular role, and they are still also the primary caregivers in many families. I mentioned the importance of mentors in my progression, and I know I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been approached and encouraged to take on the various roles that brought me to this point. We need to be more proactive in our recruitment of women, and other minority groups, if we truly want to call ourselves a community organisation. I am sorry that I was not able to do more on this during my term, and while we have certainly made huge progress in our relationships with camogie and ladies’ football at local level, we are a long way from achieving diversity.
Another area where I had hoped to effect change but did not manage to do so during my term was in terms of our organisational structure as a county. While our Divisions have done sterling work over many years, they were established at a very different time and to serve a very different purpose. I feel that we really need to bite the bullet, put our personal feelings to one side and carry out a full review of how we function as a county all the way from juvenile up to adult level. I do not feel that 100-year-old structures serve our county as they once did, and if we want to achieve at the highest level, such a review will be necessary.
I have two further regrets as I leave office; the degree to which Covid-19 impacted our plans for a financial turnaround this year and our continuing wait for an All-Ireland senior title. However, progress has been made on our finances, with a significant decrease in the County Board’s operating loss this year, and I am certain that, without Covid, we would have returned to profitability. On the field of play, we saw some green shoots of hope with our defeat of Kerry in senior football and our speedy promotion from Division 3 of the national football league. Our U20 hurlers produced a gutsy performance against Limerick to qualify for the Munster Final next Wednesday, and I wish them well in that game. Most significantly for both areas, however, 2020 saw the formation and launch of One Cork, a most exciting new departure amalgamating all of the existing organisations working to further Gaelic Games across the county, including the Cork County Board, the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium board, the former Cairde Chorcaí, the clubs and the army of dedicated supporters of Cork GAA.
The ambition of this group is to deliver a unified strategy and implementation plan so that all facets of Cork GAA, including our women’s games, are fully resourced in financial terms, with guidance and direction in how these resources are appropriately allocated. This, for me, realises a long-held ambition to drive Cork GAA forward united, as befits the largest county in Ireland. I must also note the appointment earlier this year of a commercial manager, and the value that role has brought to the county – to me it has been a game-changer in many ways, and we can see the positives already in the new sponsorships secured. Sinéad O’Keeffe has fulfilled the role admirably to date and has been a key support to the One Cork project. It has been a wonderful experience to be part of the coming together of so many truly outstanding Cork GAA people, and to be able to provide an opportunity for so many more to get involved. I have always felt that to fully harness the power of this county, we needed to do so together, and we now finally have that chance. It has been a leap of
faith for many of those involved, requiring a level of trust that may not have existed previously, but as we all know, the right option isn’t always the easy option, and I am certain that this group heralds the start of an exciting new journey for our county. You’ve heard me say it before, but I’ll say it again – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.
I’ve gone on far too long at this stage, so my apologies and I hope no-one has fallen asleep. There remains nothing else for me to say, apart from one final very sincere thank you for the privilege of serving as your chairperson, the very best of luck to Marc, Kevin and their team in the years to come, and a very happy and peaceful Christmas to you all.
Míle, mile buíochas libh go léir, agus go mbeirimid beo ar an am seo arís