From Slieverue to Sydney and all places in between, the President probably got there

NICKEY Brennan reckoned he travelled in the region of 160,000 miles in Ireland alone during his three years as President of the GAA.

He also visited the other Continents, some on a few occasions.

During one particularly busy week alone he flew to Malaysia via Dublin, Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur and on to Penang for the Asian GAA finals.

He followed the same route home. After spending two days in Ireland he was in the air again, this time heading to Australia for the International Rules games.

The story made the 'papers, for all the wrong reasons.

The President was booked into Business Class for the flight Down Under. Why? Because of the risk of thrombosis, a very real danger for people taking long haul fights.

The story took flight. Brennan was depicted as the 'pampering President'. The health issue was ignored.

"You have to think about things like that," Mr Brennan explained when we spoke about the story. "It was a nothing story really, but it was a bit unfair in light of the circumstances."

Part of the job specification for the President of the GAA was that he must be a globe trotter.

International dimension

America was regarded as a hop now, Mr Brennan felt. During his Presidency he was in Australia twice. He was in the Middle East three times, once when President elect. He was in Asia once as President, and once as President elect.

He has travelled to various parts of Europe for finals of Gaelic games. And he has been in Britain on occasions too numerous to mention, while Canada was visited too.

"The international dimension of the GAA is huge," insisted the former President. "Outside of Ireland there are about 400 clubs."

Brennan was keen to make the Irish aboard feel part of the GAA family. To this end he wored worked very closely and very well with the Department of Affairs.

When current Taoiseach Brian Cowen was Minster for Foreign Affairs he set up the Irish Abroad Unit. This was essentially geared and focused on the Irish in foreign parts and the main aim was to develop a support network for them.

"We worked with that Unit," the Conahy man continued. "They have been extraordinarily helpful. The GAA now has about 12 people employed full-time outside of Ireland. These jobs are funded by the GAA at national level, the GAA in the country and by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Remarkably successful

"These people are coaching in clubs and schools. The venture has been remarkably successful."

Those employed are Irish people. One of the coaches in the Boston area is a brother of Seamus Moynihan, the Kerry footballer. A coach in New York is John Madden, who played hurling with Tipperary for years, and who is now living in the Big Apple.

"There are second and third generation Irish, and no generation at all, involved in Gaelic games all over the world now," he revealed. "One thing the coaches are finding going into schools is that Gaelic football in particular has a lot of different skills that help to improve the development of children. There is kicking, catching, running and a physical involvement without being too physical. Parents like that."

He said the Go Games concept, whereby everyone got to enjoy the action, was the preferred approach by parents who wanted their children involved in sport.

For example, about 2,000 children aged between 8 and 18 participate in the Continental Youths Championships (CYC Games) in America each year. The players travel from all parts.

The finals were in Philadelphia last year. Brennan was there. He described the finals as the equivalent of Feile-na-nGael.

"It is an extra ordinary event," he beamed. "These people have taken to our games. This is a serious operation. You take New York, for example. The New York team was very, very unlucky to lose the Division 2 football final in Feile in Cavan last year.

Fantastic football

"I was at the All America under-14 final between two New York clubs. It was a fantastic game of football."

The GAA message was sweeping across America. The very business like New York Times even showed an interest and ran an article on the growth of the GAA. The slant of the story was a bit negative, but Mr Brennan felt that was the GAA's own fault.

He reminded that the GAA has spent over 1-million Euro developing Gaelic Park in New York. An all weather facility has been developed in a joint undertaking by the GAA and Manhattan College, who have the lease on the 'Park.

The 'Park is owned by the Municipal Transport Authority of New York. They have it leased to Manhattan College, who in turn have it sub let to the GAA.

"Manhattan College was finding it difficult to use the field after GAA games," Mr Brennan explained. "They decided something should be done. The cost was nearly 3-million dollars for an all weather pitch, to extend and widen the playing area and to put in floodlighting."

The job was done. The costs were shared equally.

The GAA in Ireland promised the people in New York 1-million if the came up with the balance. There Yanks did. At one fund raiser attended by Mr Brennan and other Irish officials, around 300,000 dollars was raised.

"Once people saw Croke Park was prepared to put its stamp on things, they came on board," he explained. Mayor Bloomberg of New York even gave his blessing to the project.

"It is a fantastic venue now," Nickey insisted. "The challenge now is to see can they make something of the old bars and restaurants."

Business plan

There is a huge under-age base in the NYC area, and now all the under-age matches can be played in Gaelic Park. On top of that, there is vibrant club North of Gaelic Park named Rocklands.

"Any day they would have 200 children out training," he said. "They are developing two Gaelic pitches they got from the local council."

Sweeping across to the West coast, San Francisco has a 5-million development at Treasure Island. The GAA also co-funded the development of a GAA pitch in Perth, Australia.

Where ever a need was identified, and it was backed up by a strong business plan, the GAA and the Department responded.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs gave 500,000 Euro to the San Francisco development and 75,000 to the Perth development. They have also funded a lot of the coaching," Mr Brennan continued.

This didn't all start during his reign, he insisted. During his time Seamus Howlin of Wexford was the chairman of the Overseas Development Group, and he did a great job. Before that Gene Duffy from Armagh was the team leader. Former President, Joe McDonagh would be the new man heading up this division.

Network very important

"The GAA overseas is about more than just sport," Mr Brennan insisted. "It is about the whole issue of social networking as well. As so many Irish now have to leave to find work, we find more and more people are working through GAA clubs to try and see is anything going or can they be helped.

"The network of GAA clubs is very important, given the way the economy and everything has gone. Timing wise these developments were spot on."


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