Monday 19 March 2018

'I would hope that we end up with a two-tier SFC': Horan

New GAA president 'full of energy' as he assumes top office

ROAD MAP FOR FUTURE: New GAA president John Horan
ROAD MAP FOR FUTURE: New GAA president John Horan

On the Friday night of Congress last February, John Horan sat at the top table in Croke Park with a piece of paper placed on the desk in front of him, written on which was a number.

It said '141,' his prediction for the number of first preference votes his presidential candidacy would receive.

He was three shy. Horan polled 144.

Seán Walsh, his neared rival, received 46.

In an emotional address, Horan thanked his wife, Paula, and offered commiserations to his defeated opponents.

"Unbeknownst to myself at the time," he says now, "I was actually very ill".

By then, Horan was two stone below his 'fighting' weight and within a few days, lay in hospital where he spent two weeks attached to a drip.

"At one stage," he told the Herald this week in his first in-depth interview since taking office, "I thought about pulling out of the campaign."

It was presumed that the emotional investment he had made in becoming the first native Dublin GAA president in 96 years had had a physical affect.

What actually happened was he picked up what he calls "a chill," at a League match between Cavan and Dublin in Breffni Park in February of last year.

Inadequately treated, that escalated into a serious kidney issue that led to him becoming what he describes with some understatement as "quite ill". Horan's eyesight was even affected - his speech too.

John Horan makes the draw for the 2015 Leinster SFC when he was then Leinster Council Chairman
John Horan makes the draw for the 2015 Leinster SFC when he was then Leinster Council Chairman

"It was only a visit to my kidney specialist in September that showed a marked improvement and I was given the all-clear," he recalls.

"And it was only then that I started coming back to myself."

If Horan's spell as Uachtarán-Tofa was spent mostly 'under the weather', it doesn't show now.

As we speak, he sits at his new desk on the ground floor of Croke Park in a window-less office tucked away off the main corridor under the Hogan Stand.

Currently, he is forming committees, an exhausting, necessary task that seems to involve making phone calls to three kinds of people: those who are happy to simply oblige, others who want to shoot the breeze with the new president for 15 minutes or so before saying yes or no, and some who simply can't be contacted during office hours.

"The beauty of the GAA," he smiles.

There's the weighty matter of the appointment of the new Ard Stiúrthóir to attend to although Horan is anxious to keep the process as private as possible until the formal announcement.

There's a committee on the GAA's amateur status to put together.

He is also close too to finalising a strategic plan for the next three years, with a planned April launch.

He's meeting the chairman of the Rules Advisory Committee this week to look at the review of the rule book.


Horan is also noticeably eager to address the issue of underage inter-county development squads, too.

His experience as principal of St Vincent's Secondary School in Glasnevin has led him to the conclusion that players under the age of 15 should be left with their clubs.

"And then," he says, looking more 'big-picture', "the big challenge for me comes in my last year, when the hurling and football championships are up for review.

"I would have hope that we would end up with a two-tiered senior football championship.

"That would be one of my ambitions."

Horan's first official public duty as GAA president was in St Mary's Church in Dingle at the funeral of 14-year-old Junior Cert student, Aodhán Ó Conchúir, who tragically died in an accidental collision during a schools football match for Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.

Not that he was in any doubt about the necessity of the ambassadorial side to his new position but that served an early and sorrowful reminder anyway.

The snow prevented him from attending an event in Letterkenny last week but it also brought into focus how much work would have been left sitting on his desk had he been on the road.

On the day of our interview, he was scheduled to meet with the Club Players Association (CPA) for the first time.

He didn't want to pre-empt the encounter in any way but Horan has the appearance of a man with an open mind.

"This organisation is about evolution rather than revolution and I know that some people think that's to the hindrance of the organisation.

"I think it's probably a strength," he states.

"I know one columnist alluded to it that maybe the slow wheels that move within the GAA might hinder me in making progress.

"But I think it's no harm if you have new and fresh ideas, that they have come through a robust examination and are more likely to succeed."

He doesn't mention anyone by name but Horan knows he has been positioned close to the cross-hairs of some media snipers.

For all that, he isn't quite sure yet whether a higher number of GAA people are disillusioned with their own organisation than before or simply if those who are disillusioned can make their feelings more widely heard through traditional and social media.

"Some of the things you bring in or changes that you make are not necessarily going to impact when you're there and may come after you," he says.

"And whether people give me credit or they don't, I can go away happy. I'm comfortable with that.

"I would be a lot more happy after I finish my term knowing that I shaped or moulded things in a way that is going to work positively for the organisation in future, rather than being necessarily seen to be catching headlines during the three years.

"Because," Horan concludes, "quick fixes are not necessarily the solution to the problems of this association."

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