Just in case anyone is interested… here’s my speech at the Cork GAA Annual Convention 2017 where I was formally elected Chairperson of Cork County Board.
Chathaoirligh Comhairle na Mumhan, Uachtarán agus co-oifigigh Choiste Chontae is a cháirde uilig, is cúis mór áthas agus onóir dom a bheith tofa mar Chathaoirligh Choiste Chontae Chorcaí ar an ocáid stáiriúl seo. Is mór an onóir dom fhéin, do mo chlub Cilliath, agus do mo chlann.
It is a huge honour for me to have been elected to this prestigious position, and I want to thank you most sincerely for this privilege. There has been and will continue to be much comment on the historic nature of my appointment, but it is not I who have made history today, but you, the clubs of this county, who have supported me since my earliest involvement. Six years ago, you elected me to the position of PRO, three years ago you elected me as Leas-Cathaoirleach, and this year, you accorded me the great honour of electing me without opposition to the position of Cathaoirleach. I remember hearing Iar-Uachtarán Liam O’Neill accepting the position of Uachtarán Tofa a number of years ago stressing how much he disliked elections and being very grateful to finally be elected unopposed, and I must admit I shared his relief when I learned that there was no challenger on this occasion. Perhaps you were just fed up of the phone calls, but in any case, I am very, very appreciative of your support. I hope I will continue to be as accessible to you and as open to your queries and concerns as I hope I have been throughout my term as an officer. When I look at the calibre of those who have preceded me in this office, I am truly humbled and very grateful for the honour accorded to me.
I want to particularly thank my own club, Killeagh, without whose support and encouragement, I would certainly not be standing before you today in this position. I am the first person from my club to be elected as an officer of this Board, but I have been lucky to be influenced by many outstanding administrators in Killeagh, any of whom would have made – and may yet make – fantastic officers of this Board. People like Tommy Seward, Ray Rochford, Ursula Coleman and the late great Tom Fitzgibbon, to name but a few, have taught me so much along the way and I am grateful to them all. I was also very well trained in operations at Board level by our East Cork Board delegates, David Scully, better known as Junior, and Seán Murphy, who has been an influence in my life for as long as I can remember. I have learned along the way how important the guiding influence of a chairperson can be, having been lucky to work with a series of excellent exponents of that role at club level, up to and including our current Chairman, Pádraig McGrath, who is here today.
I have also been lucky in those I have followed on my journey, who have always been willing to guide, advise and encourage me, particularly my predecessor as secretary of the East Cork Board, Willie Ring, who was my first port of call on many occasions, and the outgoing Cathaoirleach, Ger Lane, who has never been slow to let me know when I was veering off-course. Much has been made about the importance of mentors in various aspects of life today, and I have been very lucky in those who have filled that role for me to date.
My election is also an important one for women in sport, and while I may be the first woman Cathaoirleach of this Board, my way has been paved by the numerous trailblazers who came before me. Women like former Tipperary PRO, Liz Howard, the first woman elected to any County Board, Mary Fitzgibbon, the first woman secretary of my own club and now back again to fulfil the same role many years later, and of course, Róisín Jordan, the first woman to chair any County Board in this country, have all smoothed the path for me. I also want to acknowledge the many, many fantastic women contributing so much at club level, and to urge them to consider moving on to Divisional and County positions. I have said previously that there is no point being the first if you are the only, and I really hope to see the day when electing a woman to any position in the GAA is no longer newsworthy but normal. To quote US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg, ‘women belong in all places where decisions are being made… it shouldn’t be that women are the exception.’ We are all aware that volunteers are becoming harder and harder to come by, so it makes no sense to exclude half of the population when so many of them have so much to offer.
I also look forward to deepening our relationship with Cork Camogie and Cork Ladies Football, and would like to echo the sentiments of the outgoing Cathaoirleach in hoping to see them play here in this fantastic stadium.
I must take this opportunity to thank my family and friends for their unwavering support, even though at times they may question my sanity. I particularly want to mention my mother, Helen, who is here today. She has faced many challenges in her life so far, and has never let anything get her down. She created a home full of love and support, believed in us unwaveringly and always taught us to stand up for ourselves. I hope I have inherited her tenacity and determination, and there is no doubt to that my sister and I are the independent women we are today due to her influence on our lives. My sister Mary and my brother-in-law Killian also provide me with great support, and if there is any twinge of sadness today, it’s that my father Paddy isn’t here to share it – though I’m certain that he’d have been quite baffled as to why I’d want such a job.
Thanks also to the management and staff of Carrigaline Community School, without whose support it would be very difficult for me to take on this role, and to my former colleagues in Pobalscoil na Tríonóide Youghal, who were always fully behind me too.
I want to take a moment to remember some dear friends who would have been so proud were they still with us today – I’ve mentioned my father and Tom Fitzgibbon, but also in my thoughts today are former Cathaoirleach Mick Dolan, who all but adopted me from the day he discovered that my grandfather was from Fermoy, and particularly Dave Hoare, a great friend and supporter for many years. At the removal of Derry Gowen the other night, I was struck by how much wisdom has been lost with the passing of each former County Chairman, and I want to remember them all today. We truly do stand on the shoulders of giants. Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad.
To the outgoing officers of an Coiste Chontae, and to all the officers I have worked with over the past six years, my sincere thanks for your support, co-operation and commitment. Many tributes have been paid today to Pearse Murphy, and I would like to add my own. The dedication shown by Pearse to this Association is unlikely to be matched by any of his successors, and I certainly hope he will continue to play a vital role in the operations of Cork GAA. Thank you Pearse, and my very best wishes for your future endeavours. The outgoing Cathaoirleach, as I’ve mentioned earlier, has been a guiding presence in my GAA career for many years, and he has had a particularly challenging term with the extra load created by the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. His calm and capable presence has helped to smooth over many difficulties during his term as an officer of this Board, and he has steered the ship on a steady course. I wish him well as he moves on to the less onerous role of Munster delegate, and in whatever direction his GAA career may now go.
I must also thank our Runaí for his advice and guidance throughout my time so far. He is an endless source of knowledge and expertise, and I have been very grateful for his help at many times. Thanks also to our Senior Administrator for all his hard work and support.
Congratulations to our other new officers, and commiserations to the defeated candidates. Putting yourself up for election is very difficult, and it was encouraging to see so many capable people willing to contest positions on this Executive. I know you will all continue to contribute to the GAA in various ways.
While the role I now take on is a daunting one for me, it is also very exciting. You won’t hear any Donald Trump-style ‘Make Cork GAA Great Again’ promises from me – Cork GAA is already great, and we need to stop talking ourselves down and start to celebrate what we have achieved. We have more than 160 clubs, we play thousands of games, we cater for tens of thousands of players, club members and supporters, and the service we provide to the community is immense and immeasurable. We brought €50 million euro to Cork in recent years, and invested it in a stadium that is second to none. We are represented on the field of play by committed, dedicated and talented players who are a credit to the Cork jersey and to their clubs. We need to take pride in what we have achieved to date and express that pride at every opportunity. I recently attended a talk by John Lonergan, former governer of Mountjoy jail, and one piece of advice he gave was to always glance at the failures but stare at the success. All too often, we do the opposite.
Of course there is room for improvement, and there are many areas of concern. There is broad agreement that we are on the right track at the moment, but even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over unless you keep moving forward. We need to identify areas for improvement, make the necessary changes and not take for granted what is going well.
Like you, I can see many areas for concern at the moment. We have a number of struggling rural clubs who may face extinction due to depopulation. At the other end of the scale, we have clubs in large urban areas struggling to enlist enough volunteers to cater for all their players. Our Development Squads, while producing good results, need to be reviewed to see what could be done better. Rebel Óg is working very well in some respects, but not so well in others. I worry about the standard of coaching at club level, and how that impacts on the performance of Cork teams. Finance is a concern, and related to this is the growing cost of resourcing our inter-county teams. Probably the single biggest challenge facing the GAA today, and particularly in Cork, is finding a way to balance the needs of our club players and the demands of the inter-county scene, a problem no county can resolve on its own. There are commitments to address some of these issues in our Strategic Plan, and as an Executive, we will continue to identify other areas for improvement and development.
What we do need going forward if Cork is to be truly successful is unity. We need to remember that we all – players, administrators, club members, supporters – share one common goal – the good of Cork GAA – and we must unite to achieve that goal. We – these officers, the Executive – are not the County Board. YOU the clubs are the County Board, and that is the forum where the voices of all members, whether players or administrators, should be heard, channelled through your club delegate. As clubs, you have a responsibility to elect delegates who will ensure that your voice is heard. As delegates, it is your responsibility to represent the views of your club as accurately as possible, and to take decisions on their behalf. As an Executive, it is our responsibility to balance the wishes of the County Board with the greater good of Cork GAA. As stakeholders in this great Association, we need to trust each other to act in the best interests of the GAA in our County, and to support each other in doing so. Ní neart go chur le chéile – we will never fully realise the potential of Cork GAA unless we go forward united.
I mentioned earlier that I had heard John Lonergan speak during the week, and during that speech he reflected on the nature of power, and he came to the conclusion that power equates to responsibility. Standing up here before you, I am acutely aware of the huge responsibility that comes with the role I take on today. I am lucky to have a team of officers and Executive members with whom to share that responsibility, and I look forward to working with them. We are a new Executive, operating in circumstances that are very different from those who came before us. I will make mistakes, we all will – as the saying goes, anyone who never made a mistake never made anything. I am making no promises here today, apart from one: for the next three years, I will work to the best of my ability for the good of Cork GAA.
I hope that you will continue to support me on that journey.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.