John Horgan talks to Tracey Kennedy, the first female to take up the post as the Cork County Board chair about the task that lies ahead for her
THE GAA is a much-changed landscape from what it once used to be and Cork has always played a prominent role in its continuing vibrancy.
Yesterday, in the magnificent amphitheatre that is now Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Tracy Kennedy from Killeagh became the county’s first female chairperson.
Her elevation to what is a powerful and challenging position has been widely welcomed after she was the sole nomination for the post.
She follows in the footsteps of some of the most iconic figures that have served the Association through the ages on Leeside.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening Echo, she outlined her hopes and aspirations for what lies ahead.
“I am hugely honoured, it’s a huge privilege, Landmabeing the first woman is sort of accidental, if you like, in so far as that was something that I never set out to do, but it happened along the way.
“Obviously, I am very proud of that, but the honour and privilege of being chairperson of Cork County Board is huge for anybody, be it a man or a woman and that is something that I am very conscious of and of the responsibility it beings.”
And there is a great awareness too of the footsteps that she is following in on this three-year journey.
“There is something slightly unreal about that, to think of the people who have gone before me and the many greats that have filled this office.
“That, of course, adds to the humbling of the whole thing.
“I can’t say that it was an ambition of mine to become chairperson.
“I know it sounds a bit silly to say that it was, but I love being involved and anything that I am involved in I try to give of my best and I suppose that led me up through the ranks of the GAA, because in order to stay involved in the level that I am, you have to keep on taking on different roles.
“You cannot stay in any of them and when I was PRO of the County Board that was my ambition at that time.
“That was something that I enjoyed, something that I was interested in, but I hadn’t really thought about going any further.
“But at the end of those three years, my options were either to leave and let that be the end of it or run for the vice-chair.
“You can’t move sideways in the County Board, you can only move from one position up to the one above it so the vice-chair was the only role open to me at that time and I went for it and I got it.’’
Another three-year stint in that position opened up the opportunity of taking the top job and that was exactly how it has panned out.
“I suppose after that it became something of an inevitability that I would have to think about becoming the chairperson if the clubs of Cork so wished and, obviously, they did.
“So, from that point of view and while it was never an ambition, it’s still something that I am very proud to have achieved.’’
She now takes office with a very successful apprenticeship completed, all the way from its infancy in her own club in Killeagh.
“I have always enjoyed administration, going all the way back to Killeagh Community Council.
“I was secretary of the GAA there, secretary of the East Cork Board so I have had plenty of training, but now I am fully aware of the responsibilities that I am taking on.
“I am a bit daunted by it too because I know of those responsibilities.
“There is a new element with the position now, the new stadium and the board of directors, that is something that was not there previously.
“The stadium now is not a place that you can walk into like we used to in the past.
“It’s a completely different set-up and a completely different climate.
“But at the end of the day the county board runs the committee that runs the stadium, everyone is still answerable to the county executive, so from that viewpoint, the link is there, but it will bring change in how we run our operations in Cork.”
One of the great challenges that lie ahead is the balancing act between club and inter-county.
“Definitely, there are huge challenges there, the demands that the inter-county scene places on our own scheduling, I would see that as the biggest one.
“We have to try in some way to keep things meaningful for club players and yet at the same time to give our inter-county teams the best chance of succeeding. Juggling those two is next to impossible in a county the size of Cork.
“There is no other county facing that challenge in terms of geographical size and the dual situation.
“Almost all of our clubs, to some degree are dual, and my worry is that these club players will get disillusioned and go off doing other things.
“At heart, we are an amateur association and clubs are the heart and strength of the GAA and as a national body, the GAA has to find a way to deal with that.
“If there was an easy solution we’d have found it by now.’’
So what lies ahead in 2018?
“I think we are going to be playing a sort of watching game for 2018 and see how the new championship structure at inter-county level pans out and what impact it will have for us.
“We did some tweaking to our championships for the coming year and we did put a one year review on that.
“Normally, it would be longer, but we must see how 2018 works out.’’
A new inter-county hurling structure now awaits and Cork are monitoring that situation closely, a structure that they were not in favour of.
“It’s not that we were not in favour of more hurling games, we understood that with football getting more exposure there had to be something kind of similar to hurling.
“But we didn’t see the logic of having a round-robin in hurling at one end of the championship and one in football at the other end thus tying up the whole summer.
“Our proposal was to have some sort of round-robin where there would be greater hurling games at the latter end of the championship like there’s going to be in football.That didn’t make it at Central Council and it’s something that we must deal with.’’
The new chairperson is, however, upbeat about Cork’s chances in the new championship structure.
“We have heard of mushrooms, that kind of stuff, but the reality is that it’s down to the hard work that has been going on and that wasn’t visible to people for a number of years.
“But now it’s coming to fruition as we saw with our U17 hurlers and minors. At senior level, the input of new, young players alongside the older ones worked very well in winning the Munster SHC.
“Kieran (Kingston) is a huge loss, but I have no doubt that John Meyler will steer the ship just as effectively.
“There is no shortage of football talent either.
“Nemo and Knocknagree had two great wins recently in Munster and Ronan McCarthy, I believe, will further enhance that.
“We saw against Mayo what could be done and I believe he and his selectors will build on that.’’