In launching the Mayo GAA Strategic Action Plan report last night in McHale Park (a copy of the report is available here), the Chairman of the Strategic Action Plan Committee, Liam Horan, delivered an address which is reproduced here in full.
“The rich, traditional Green above the bold, unpredictable red.”
From our short-trousered, wide-eyed, childhood days, those colours have held us in thrall: for my generation, the earliest embodiment of Mayo, the wearers of those colours and the bearers of a magical heritage, were Tommy O’Malley, John P, and Martin Carney.
For others before, it was Peter Solan, Flanagan, Sean Lavin, Dr Padraig Carney, Purty Kelly, Joe Corcoran, Four Goal Willie, and Morley.
For others who came later, it was Liam McHale, Kevin O’Neill, Kenneth Mortimer, Noel Connelly, Nallen, McDonald, Cora, and Keith Higgins.
And for still more, those short-trousered, wide-eyed six, seven and eight year-olds for whom this wonderful journey is only beginning right now, it will be a man like Robert Hennelly who makes his league debut tomorrow; or Cathal Freeman and Cillian O’Connor, chomping at the bit, next in line to inherit, and next to tilt at windmills on our behalf.
If we could impose the wisdom of our years on those young boys and girls as they arrive at this very venue tomorrow, flag under arm, struggling to catch a glimpse of Peadar Gardiner or perhaps even a rushed autograph from a sidelined Enda Varley, what would we whisper in their ears? What would we want them to know so that they might be prepared for the voyage upon which they embark?
I suspect our words would borrow heavily from the romantic sphere.
We would tell them they are destined for moments of great heartbreak – punctuated by moments of great joy.
We would tell them, wouldn’t we, that they will experience periods of deep, disturbing disillusionment – but they will never be able to walk away.
We would tell them that there will be times right throughout their lives, when they will be gripped by rolling waves of anger, the intensity of which will shock and perhaps even worry them – but, one hopping ball into a sprightly forward, a quick shimmy, and a steadying point, and that enraged moment too will pass.
And we would tell them that others may scoff at the object of their affections, perhaps to the point of encouraging them to conceal their true passions.
But we would also tell them something else. We would tell them, wouldn’t we, that, for all the twists and turns, for all the peaks and troughs, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We would tell them so much more. About those moments of adult fancy when we, too, see ourselves as heroes of crowded hours. About how we too are still six, seven or eight years old, still dreaming elusive dreams, still tilting at elusive windmills.
Those who were asked to compile this report do not have the monopoly on passion for Mayo GAA. Nor were we the only 86 people who could have done this job. Nor do we believe this report is perfect down to the last dotted ‘I’ and the final crossed ‘t.’
We do not believe this Report is The Last Word. What we hope, and what every Mayo GAA person should hope, is that this instead is The First Word of a new chapter, and that many others will emerge to write the subsequent, never-ending chapters with a sweep and a flourish not seen in these parts since those glorious 1950s days – the 60th anniversary of which occurs this very year.
Chapters where Mayo GAA finally delivers on a potential so vast it is almost frightening. I am certain our committee would like me to say one thing tonight, because the process of compiling our report led us to this conclusion: based on the passion and goodwill that exists for Mayo, here in Mayo, all over Ireland, and all around the globe, we are absolutely confident that Mayo could become a super-power of the GAA world.
It is a naïve statement. A wiser committee might shy away from it, because it sets us up for a fall. It is a statement that will be easily thrown back in our faces.
“Where’s the super power now?” some may ask when we slip meekly out of the Qualifiers this year or next.
“Whither now for the project to dominate the world?” they’ll caw.
Let them have their moment of pithy triumph.
We should hold true to our aspirations, and focus solely on arranging our forces and marshalling our troops: as a large emigration county, our people have been cast to the four corners of the world, and with absence doing what it does to an already fond heart, those people are perhaps our greatest asset right now – our 16th man.
Let us go about our business so that Mayo people all over the world have a wheel they can put their shoulder to – let’s become the first county to have Mayo Supporters branches in all the major ‘Irish’ cities. Let’s walk tall, even on our darkest days. Let’s give the sons and daughters of our expats something they can cling onto: the annual official Mayo GAA scarf, the membership card, the invitation to contribute something as small as 20 euros, dollars or pounds, the something small that will symbolise and unite.
Let’s truly, finally, become the mass movement we can be.
As chairman of this group, I have always felt uneasy thanking the 86 people who worked directly on this report, or the perhaps 200 others who contributed in so many disparate ways. Thanking them seems to imply they did something for me, which is patently not the case: these people did it for Mayo, for their own county, their own towns, their own villages, their own clubs.
Their commitment over the past five months illustrates the latent enthusiasm that exists out there, people just waiting to be asked, crying out for a role where they can make a meaningful contribution.
We thank Mayo County Board for commissioning this report, and place this document at the feet of the Mayo GAA public. Hand on heart, we can assure every club in Mayo that there exists within these pages something, or perhaps a number of things, that will threaten, annoy, or discommode them. Every single person in this room tonight, and everyone else who will read this document either in full or with a quick flick-through, will be able to pick out something that jars.
For this document to be universally accepted would require it to be singularly harmless.
We urge the Mayo GAA public to debate it in full, but to bear in mind what I said about it being The First Word, not the Last. We would also ask them not to forget the backdrop to the commissioning of this report – the root-and-branch examination that was deemed necessary after last year saw Mayo senior footballers end another season on a very low point, and what I would characterise as the apathy which was beginning to grip the county’s GAA followers, the greatest apathy about Mayo GAA I think I had seen in my lifetime, though I accept there are no scientific measurements to support such a claim.
This document may indeed ask a lot of the many people who hold office and serve Mayo GAA. But nothing included here is gratuitous: everything was run through one very simple filter – did we feel it would it help to improve Mayo GAA? If the answer was yes, it got in. If the answer was no, it ended up on the cutting room floor.
We don’t expect that every last syllable of every recommendation will be implemented. Some may prove themselves to be unworkable. Some may fall foul of rule. Some may just be plain bonkers.
But some, and hopefully many, may prove to have great merit.
To achieve our potential, we must make changes. If not the ones in this document, then others. No-one need be threatened by the prospect of change: all organisms that survive, all institutions that prevail, must change. Those who decline to change, decay and die.
Mayo GAA belongs to us all. Any of us who are permitted to leave an imprint upon it – whether by wearing that jersey, holding an office, or even contributing to an Action Plan such as this – should be honoured, not burdened, by the opportunity.
I would hope our committee has taken some inspiration from those colours: we hope you find that the document we have put out into circulation tonight is rich, we hope you find it traditional, we hope you find it bold, and we hope you find it unpredictable.
A first word, not a last one.