Outgoing chairperson Tracey Kennedy on the challenges facing Cork GAA

As a three-year term ends, Tracey Kennedy reflects on her stint at the helm
Outgoing chairperson Tracey Kennedy on the challenges facing Cork GAA

Tracey Kennedy, outgoing chairperson of the Cork County Board. Picture: Jim Coughlan

HOW would you compare yourself now to the new PRO of nine years ago?

“I think I was far more idealistic setting out. I had big ideas about what needed to be changed and I thought that change could happen much more easily than it did. I also expected everyone to agree with my ideas (still do!) and found it frustrating when they didn’t. I’ve learned a lot about change management in the intervening years, and I now realise what a slow process cultural change can be, and how difficult it can be to bring people with you.

“I found those early years more enjoyable because I had more agency in my own area and less responsibility, plus I enjoyed all aspects of the role of PRO. Moving through vice-chair and chair brought with it extra responsibility and visibility and less enjoyment.”

What are the big differences to being inside the decision-making process that the average person might not appreciate?

“The variety of differing viewpoints in a 14-person executive is a challenge that people might not be aware of. My fellow officers and executive members down through the years have generally been passionate people with strong views, and achieving consensus within such a big group is not always easy.

“When we do reach a decision, that then has to go to County Board, where there are approximately 167 clubs represented, plus eight divisions and other bodies. In recent years, there has been an awareness that major decisions that may arise out of County Board meetings often have to go back to clubs for discussion before anything can be finalised.


                        Picture: Jim Coughlan
Picture: Jim Coughlan

“Of course, this is democracy in action, and debate and discussion is important but it certainly makes the decision-making process slow and unwieldy, particularly where an issue might be contentious, such as our County Championship reform proposals. Cork has such a diverse range of clubs that finding solutions that work for everyone is next to impossible and even finding options that work for the majority can be difficult at times.

“As in any large body, there are often agendas at play that people outside the process – or even inside the process – might not be aware of and obviously these can complicate things also.”

Do you feel that you were you successful in carrying out the aims you had when you came into the role of chair?

“To a limited degree. I knew that one of the main challenges of my term would be overseeing a massive transition at administrative level, as when I took office, our long-standing County Secretary, Frank Murphy, was due to retire during my first year. While that transition was achieved, with Kevin O’Donovan taking over at the end of 2018, such a huge change at the heart of the association was never going to be easy and will take some time to settle.

CHAMPIONSHIP REFORM:

“For years, I’ve wanted to try something different with our County Championships, and I am delighted that our clubs finally took the brave step of agreeing a completely new format which commenced this year and was incredibly successful. It was also very important to me that Cork County Board would become a more open organisation, and I think that has been achieved during my term of involvement.

“I felt very strongly that no-one who had something to offer to Cork should be excluded on the basis of past issues and conflicts, and I was particularly pleased to see former players, like Donal Óg Cusack. who might have felt that the door was closed to them, getting involved again. A very co-ordinated approach was taken to hurling management appointments last year, and I would like to see that model continued into the future.

Cork football manager Ronan McCarthy, Kevin O'Donovan, CEO/Secretary Cork County Board, Tracey Kennedy, chair of Cork County Board and hurling selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan at the launch of a special jersey this season. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Cork football manager Ronan McCarthy, Kevin O'Donovan, CEO/Secretary Cork County Board, Tracey Kennedy, chair of Cork County Board and hurling selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan at the launch of a special jersey this season. Picture: Jim Coughlan

“On a personal level, I have always tried to make Cork football a priority, as I know there is a sense from our football fraternity that it hasn’t been so at times in the past. As chairperson, I have never missed a Cork football game, even when there was a clash with the hurlers, and I’ve always been impressed with the commitment shown by our footballers and management teams, even when faced with the greatest challenges. 

"It was an honour to work with Brian Cuthbert, Conor Counihan and Graham Canty on a five-year plan for Cork football, which is currently being implemented, and while I take absolutely no personal credit for them, the All-Ireland victories of our U20s and Minors last year and our recent defeat of Kerry in senior football have given me the greatest enjoyment of my term in office.

“The other major challenge of my term was the stadium, and there were times when things looked bleak. 

"However, there is a fantastic stadium board in place now, chaired by John Horan, and things are turning around. We have a stadium to be proud of and one which will stand the test of time, when the current challenges will be long forgotten.

“The establishment of the One Cork group is also a huge positive for Cork. Unity has been a theme of my term, and One Cork is the embodiment of unity in Cork GAA. 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 the chance to do so.

“I’m also delighted to have seen progress in terms of the relationships with our sister organisations, Cork camogie and Cork ladies’ football. It’s now the norm rather than the exception to see our women’s teams playing at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and I’m never prouder than when I see them do so. Of course, there is a long way to go in terms of achieving greater co-operation, but at least we are now on the right track.

“I’m disappointed, however, to be leaving office with no women following behind me. There are many amazing women working in our clubs and at divisional level, and I had hoped that some of them might progress. 

"I’ve said previously that there’s no point being the first if you’re the only one, and I really hope it won’t be too long before there are other women involved as County Board officers.

“One area where I had hoped to effect change but did not manage to do so 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.”

Karen O’Donoghue and Tom Fitzpatrick, Irish Examiner, Conor Cahalane, St Finbarr’s, John O’Rourke, Carbery Rangers, Tracey Kennedy and Kevin O’Donovan, promoting the club streaming service.
Karen O’Donoghue and Tom Fitzpatrick, Irish Examiner, Conor Cahalane, St Finbarr’s, John O’Rourke, Carbery Rangers, Tracey Kennedy and Kevin O’Donovan, promoting the club streaming service.

To what extent did Covid-19 impinge on your final year?

“As I’ve mentioned, we had hoped to initiate a full review of our administrative structures in 2020, as had been flagged by the Executive at the end of last year, but that was put on hold due to Covid. I had planned to run an event for women club officers last April, which I’d hoped might have been a platform for some women to run for County Board officerships and again that fell victim to the lockdown.

“Our progress on projects like One Cork and Rebels’ Bounty was hampered, and most of all, I missed the interaction with our delegates at County Board meetings and the opportunities to visit our clubs for social events, official openings and so on. Our plans for a new season ticket, for which clubs had been calling for years, was impacted by the lack of supporters at games and I hope this can be reactivated in the future. However, it was a huge relief to get our new championship format up and running so successfully, and to welcome new sponsors, Co-op Superstores and Bons Secours Cork to our championships.

“Our streaming partnership with the Irish Examiner also got off to a flying start when it became so central in allowing supporters access to games, so there were some silver linings to the clouds. And of course, I spent far less time in my car!”

  • This is an abridged version of a longer interview that appears in the 2021 Cork GAA Yearbook, out now

More in this section

Sponsored Content

jerseywarslogosml
votetextheader

jerseysformpu
echolive

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more