Around this time every year we begin to hear of the retirement of players and team mentors. A couple of inter-county managers have already signalled their intention to step down and more are likely to follow.
When GAA officials hang up the pen it rarely creates a headline. Michael Delaney, Chief Executive of the Leinster GAA retires this Summer after over 30 years of service. If ever an individual deserves a gracious headline it is the Laois native.
Hurling was always Michael’s favourite sport, hardly surprising for a Camross native. His secondary education in St Kieran’s College also benefited his hurling and he was a member of a successful All-Ireland winning college side. It was no surprise therefore that a call came from the Laois mentors and a place on his county’s minor team.
Delaney later qualified as a primary school teacher and took up a position in his native Laois. When the opportunity came to take up a full-time role with the Leinster GAA Council the Laois man was the perfect candidate. Teaching’s loss was the GAA’s gain.
Under Delaney’s tutelage the Leinster Council has been to the forefront in its imaginative approach to the promotion and development of Gaelic games. Where Leinster went, the other three provinces followed.
Leinster led the way with a coaching and games development structure in every county. That scheme developed further, with coaches being assigned to clubs in disadvantaged areas of Dublin.
Third level colleges also benefited from Leinster Council funding. All of these schemes were later adopted by other provinces, with financial support also coming from Croke Park.
Many will recall a time when only the concluding stages of the hurling and Gaelic football championships were shown live on television. In one of his many annual reports to the Leinster Convention Delaney called on the GAA to allow its games to receive greater exposure on TV with live coverage.
Many felt such a development would be the death-knell of Gaelic games. Not for the first time Delaney’s wise call was taken on board by Croke Park. The increased live TV coverage is but one of the reasons why Gaelic Games audiences and match attendances increased significantly over the subsequent years.
In more recent years the expanded Leinster Senior Hurling Championship has seen Antrim and Galway participating. Both of those counties would also attest to leadership and stewardship of Michael Delaney with their seamless integration into the Provincial championship
Numerous clubs around the Province of Leinster have benefited at various times through grants which they received from the Leinster Council and Croke Park.
One area which underwent significant change during Delaney’s tenure at the top in Leinster was the manner in which Gaelic Games were re-organised in second level schools. The Leinster Council was hugely successful in developing an integrated approach in both the secondary and vocational sectors, which is now a national model.
When Michael Delaney took over from Wexford’s Ciaran O’Neill he may not have envisaged the scale of change he would oversee during his 30-plus years of service.
It was consistently said of Michael Delaney that he always saw the bigger picture. This was where his leadership and management styles radiated from. He was always a huge support to the many GAA personnel employed by Comhairle Laighean or another GAA unit.
I was fortunate to serve time as an officer of Comhairle Laighean and to work at close hand with Michael, whose loyalty and support for his officers is well known.
I truly wish Michael a long happy retirement. His leadership has shone like a beacon over the past 30 years throughout the GAA world. Go mbeidh scor sona, slántiúil agat a Mhichíl.