Monday’s AGM at Owenbeg will see a contest for the top spot. Former Development Officer and Limavady clubman Bobby Farren will stand against (current Chairman) Brian Smith.
“If successful, I want there to be more communication, transparency and accountability of what we are doing,” Farren began. “It is a two way process, it’s about relationships and that’s how I see it going forward.
“There is a very visible disconnect between the clubs and county and I want to get that reconnect back again. The clubs are vibrant and them, in tandem with us (county board), will only make the county better.”
A former international athlete, he is currently involved with the Limavady ladies teams and was listed on four sub committees this year – PR, finance, development and the newly formed advisory committee.
“I have been involved at Ulster, on the Derry City Strategy Group. I have been on the County Planning Group in Croke Park looking at strategies from all counties and writ Ulster GAA’s strategy,” he continued.
Michael McMullan: “With the schools, clubs and development squads all flourishing, what would be your approach for getting Derry from division four back to division one again?”
Bobby Farren: “There is a lot of good work going on from the grassroots up, with the minors, the U20s and the stuff that Chris Collins is doing.
“We have been through three (senior) managers in the last four years and we are now in a building phase with Damian McErlain and he needs the support to help him go forward and to drive that forward.
“In the background, I have been involved in securing the sponsorship for the development squads. I have also been involved in negotiating the sponsorship with H&A to take it to the level we are at.
“I have been an international athlete and I come from a high performance sports background, so I understand the demands of that level of athletes.
“If I can be supportive and lend any support that I can to our management and our teams, in whatever format, I will be trying to do that.
“There is a fine line at that level between success and being unsuccessful. We can’t get past the fact that we have fallen within the last four years from a division one final to division four.
“We need to do whatever we can and look to support the management to try to take it forward,. To at least have a springboard for those young players coming through to get us back to the top table again.
“It is about getting that system and culture right and we need to develop that winning culture within Derry.”
MM: “On the topic of hurling, there is a feeling that it doesn’t get the same promotion. There is a struggle to get somebody to take over from Collie (McGurk) as manager.”
BF: “I was disappointed to lose Collie, but you have to understand this is an amateur sport and Collie has his commercial commitments (at work). It is upon now us to try and get a really good high profile manager in there.
“Hurling at club level with Slaughtneil, with Kevin Lynch’s and even in Derry City with Na Magha is very strong and vibrant as well.
“It’s about creating that culture for success, that people want to be buying in to and getting involved in.”
MM: “Would you feel that a separate hurling development committee would be something that Derry should have in the pipeline?”
BF: “I think we need a games development committee to look at our overall games and the whole structure. There was a footballing committee developed by the advisory committee.
“When you look at the people involved in that, they were dual players so I think it wouldn’t take an awful lot to actually ask them to do another exercise for us.
“We have been very successful at hurling, respectively. So it is a matter of getting a wee bit of inspiration, I have connections with the hurling and I want to drive that forward.
MM: “In recent times, it has been getting more difficult to get referees. There has been an increase in violence. If you were to get in, what would your approach be to getting rid of this from the games?”
BF: “All that is handled through the CCC. The worst thing a county chairman could do would be to impinge on what the CCC are doing.
“The wrong thing for me to say would be ‘what I would do’, but what I can say, I am very much against violence. It is something we can learn from rugby, the respect that the referees get because at the end of the day, these people are giving up their Sunday afternoons to try and help fulfil our sport.”
“As somebody who helps out with underage girls’ (teams) in my own club, I know how difficult it is trying to keep these things all going, I think it is very, very unfair for the attitudes towards referees. If they walk away then the whole thing starts to crumble around us. I have the ultimate respect for what the referee is doing, it is a very hard task.
“We need to look at that and our relationships, we need to look at it from a county board perspective. How we look at our whole matchday experience, for people to enjoy the match more and diffuse the situation.”
MM: “On days at Owenbeg there wasn’t enough stewards. There was a supporter who got up close to a fourth official.”
BF: “We need to take this back to the clubs and open out the debate. We are a bottom up organisation. Over the last number of years, that disconnect has got greater. If you ask me – connect back to clubs and get them back involved in the answering process.
“It is increasingly hard to get volunteers to get involved in games. It takes you back to the reconnecting with clubs. The clubs will engage and those people (stewards) will be there.
“I was involved in putting funding together for Owenbeg. The licensing is a very detailed process. When there is a certain level of crowd, it will specify the amount of stewards you must have there.
“Ultimately this could end up ruining our grassroots game and our clubs don’t want that.”
MM: “Do you feel there should be more games put out to club venues to try and engage more with the supporters across the county?”
BF: “The county (board) did take games out to clubs and we need to get the feedback to the clubs. I am not going to say I have the answers, but what I would say the clubs have the answers.”
MM: “When you are talking about clubs, there is an increase in the amount of reserve games conceded. Is it something you feel can be improved on?”
BF: “That would be another one for the CCC. I am looking at a more strategic approach to how we are taking the county, going forward.
“One is connecting with the clubs and secondly, it’s about our whole corporate governance and opening up the county board to be much more accountable, communicate and be transparent.
“I want to bring a more of a commercial approach to the county. I see us appointing a CEO but I wouldn’t even do that without the support of the clubs.
“To appoint a Chief Executive or a Commercial Manager to help run the county, so that the county board can spend the time on the whole GAA development.
“It’s very unfair for volunteers to be expected to run a commercial enterprise. The GAA has to become a commercial enterprise. We have a massive asset there in Owenbeg and one in Celtic Park. Our whole sponsorship and revenue side, it’s a commercial enterprise that starts at just over £1m.”
MM: “So, would you see a CEO as taking on a role, to allow the county board to concentrate their time on the on field activities?”
BF: “It frees them up to look at our games development and all our club development and all the aspects of what the GAA is all about and let the commercial side look after itself.
“With all the best will in the world, a volunteer will never make the same impact as someone in a commercial role who is able to deliver that for you.”
MM: “If Derry are going to fulfil the full potential, the Derry City and the urban centres need to fully deliver. What are your thoughts on this?”
BF: “There is a piece of work going on at the moment and it is being co-ordinated by Ulster GAA. John Keenan is the chairman of it and we are following the same model as Dublin, as Cork and more recently Belfast on how to develop that urban centre.”
MM: “Derry will need to fully develop the city.”
BF: “If you look at the impact that has had on Dublin, but there is a latency with all that. It will take 10 to 15 years. But if you look at the last five years, every club in Derry City has its own facilities.
“We are starting to see the numbers coming through significantly, but there is a difference there to what we are doing in south Derry and what we are doing in north Derry. They can’t be looked at the same.
“In and around Derry city it is all about participation and we are competing against rugby and other sports like soccer, but more so the sedentary lifestyle where weans are doing absolutely nothing.
“There is a piece of work needing to be done there between the schools, the coaching infrastructure in clubs and that’s going to take time and it is going to need resourced.
“I don’t ever see the clubs in the rest of Derry or Derry county board being under any financial pressure to be delivering on that.
“That work is going on and as Development Officer, I helped to secure £2.5 to £3m in terms of pitches for Steelstown and Na Magha and that new club in Culmore.
“We are only as strong as our weakest link and at the minute we need to be supporting the likes of Ogra Colmcille and Ardmore, looking at what we can do to help them clubs sustain themselves.”
MM: “There seems to be an apathy towards Derry. It is termed as club versus county, often used as a reason why the county is under-performing.”
BF: “Anyone who has been at any of the ’93 (25th anniversary) nights, or sat on any of the advisory meetings we had with the clubs and the disconnect is there. But there is a passion in the clubs and the desire and for change to make that happen.
“It is very easy when you are winning at the national stage, it inspires people to get involved with Gaelic Games. So we need to get back to that level of winning and trying to get people back.
“If I get in, and it will be the clubs who will decide, I would like to see our county board meetings, once a quarter, around the clubs and a couple of the club chairmen being at those meetings to see what is going on.
“It’s (about) getting that connect back.”
Current Derry GAA Chairman Brian Smith, already in the position for four years, is standing again. Smith was also contacted by the County Derry Post to take part in a similar interview, but he declined to make any comment.
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