28 May 2022

COMMENT - Laois GAA take first steps to recovery, but a marathon journey awaits

The announcement on Friday morning that Laois GAA were launching a Strategic Review of all things related to Gaelic Games in the county was welcome news.

After a horrible year, which came on the back of a few woeful ones, anything that promised the potential of better days ahead was to be welcomed. Appointing Nickey Brennan as Chairman will divide some opinion, but as a vastly experienced official, and as a neutral, he can bring an awful lot to the table.

The committee itself has some promising members on board. Secretary David O'Brien is well-known in hurling circles, having worked with both juvenile and senior teams with his club, Clonad, and also worked as a member of the back room team under Laois managers Cheddar Plunkett and Eamonn Kelly.

In terms of GAA officialdom, it is a young committee too, with plenty of those on board still in their thirties.

It is a big undertaking to accept a position on the committee, and we can only hope that all of those whose names appear below are fully aware of the work which lies ahead.

They have a deadline of mid-November to complete the report, and in truth, that will be the easy part. Presumably these committee members will be charged with playing their part in driving the recommendations they come up with, so they have signed up for the long-term.

For many of them, they are the future of Laois GAA too, whether they yet realise it or not. The current county board has been suffering for a lack of fresh faces, and by putting themselves in place on this committee, these members will have the chance to stake their claim for higher office in the years ahead.

Like all of these Strategic Reviews, the ultimate goal is not to produce a snazzy booklet that reads well and gets left on a shelf. The recommendations have to be acted on, and a clear path identified as to how they will be implemented.

The names on the committee suggest there will be no complacency on this matter, but it is the greatest threat which hangs over all these ventures, and has to be avoided at all costs for meaningful change to take place. Sourcing money and volunteers will be the biggest challenge in driving that change.

The press release which came from Laois GAA last week mentioned that new members could be added to the committee in due course, and hopefully there will be new faces called in.

For a start, with one of the key areas set to be addressed being 'Urbanisation', there are no active club members from Portlaoise or Portarlington are involved. Considering they are the two biggest urban areas in the county, efforts will have to be made to involve them in the process.

Likewise, while Pat Critchley's name is not listed, you would have to imagine he will be consulted at some point, given his wealth of coaching knowledge and passion for Laois GAA. He is never short of ideas either, and would have a lot to offer.

There are many more like Pat who will hopefully be consulted, people like Colm Clear, Noel Delaney and Sean Dempsey, who work full-time in the GAA. Even outside expertise from local people like Pat Ryan and Ger Dunne, who have experience in High Performance environments, should be sought out.

The committee have four months to do it all of this, which is a tight time frame for the breadth of work required.

In commissioning this, Laois GAA are taking the first steps on a marathon journey, and a long, long road lies ahead. The work of this committee is just the warm up.


Chairperson – Nickey Brennan
A former president of the GAA, from 2006 to 2009. A former Kilkenny hurler, he worked as a Purchasing Manager in Glanbia, but is now retired from that role. He has been drafted in to be a neutral chairman of the committee.

Secretary – David O’Brien (Clonad)
Currently works as a principal in The Heath NS, and has coached at juvenile and senior level with Clonad. He has been part of the Laois Senio Hurling back room team for the last few years, helping out with statistics.

Kieran Kehoe (O'Dempsey's)
Currently works as the Director of Services with Laois County Council. He was appointed a selector to the Laois Senior Footballers earlier this year, but had to step back from the role due to work commitments.

Richard Kennedy (Abbeyleix)
One of the youngest club chairmen in the county, he has been involved on the Abbeyleix committee for the last few years.

John Kelly (Park-Ratheniska)
The current Park-Ratheniska Chairman and County Board Delegate, he has been one of the most vocal club delegates at county board meetings in recent times, and has called the County Executive to task on their implementation of transfer bye laws on numerous occasions.

Shane Maher (Clough-Ballacolla)
The current secretary of Clough-Ballacolla, and present Vice-Chairman of Laois Cumann na mBunscol. Will be expected to move into the vacant role of Chairman at the end of the year. Has been instrumental in recent years in implementing the Cumann na mBunscol Development Squads, which have featured at half time in a number of Laois football and hurling games this year.

Ger Slevin (O'Dempsey's)
Originally from Killenard but living in Clough, he was a part of the Laois Minor Football back room team this year.

Eamon Jackman (Ballinakill)
Currently the Vice-Principal in Coláiste Éamann Rís in Kilkenny, he was a coach with the Laois minor hurlers during Pat Critchley's tenure as manager. He is the current Ballinakill Juvenile chairman, and a coach Erins Own in Castlecomer.

Maurice Deegan (Stradbally)
Best known for his work as a referee, he has been in charge of three All-Ireland finals. Is also a member of the Referees Administration Committee in Laois.

Liam Delaney (Errill)
Has had perhaps the most unenviable job in Laois GAA in recent years, as he was chairman of the Fixtures Review Committee. He has a huge amount of experience in this field.

Michael Dempsey (St Joseph's)
One of the most qualified and celebrated coaches in the country, he has been part of Brian Cody's back room team in Kilkenny since 2003, playing a key role in their success ever since. Currently works in IT Carlow.

Niall Collins (Portlaoise)
An All-Ireland minor medal winner back in 1996, he currently works in Dublin as a solicitor with the firm Mason, Hayes and Curran, where he is Head of their Competition and Antitrust Team. He also advises clients on complex mergers and strategic alliances. He has worked in Dublin since 2011, having worked in London prior to that.

Ross Munnelly (Arles-Kilcruise)
Currently the longest-serving player on the Laois senior football panel, and the last survivor from the Leinster winning team in 2003. He is the current Head of Services in the Sports Development Centre at DCU, and has done some coaching with the college also.

Steven Miller (Annaough)
Currently runs a news website in Laois, and has previously played for Annanough, as well as acting as club treasurer.

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