The day I met Tracey Kennedy, I knew she’d change the GAA…

tracey

During Christmas 2011 I interviewed the then newly appointed PRO of the Cork GAA Board, Tracey Kennedy. Last week she made history again by becoming the first vice-chairperson of the board. 

Here’s my interview with her back in 2011.

ARMED with an iPad and two mobile phones, Tracey Kennedy means business.

She offers a firm handshake and a friendly smile, but there’s a sense she’s not one for the spotlight.

It’s unavoidable though; she’s a history maker.

On December 9, 2011, the Killeagh native broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to sit on the Cork County Board.

But she didn’t just break it, she smashed it — defeating John Corcoran of St Mary’s in the race for PRO by a whopping 308 votes, 453 to 145.

“It was a bit of a shock to get it, but the voting was a bit different this year than it has been in the past, and I suppose it was an endorsement of the work I’ve been doing, but I have to keep delivering now,” said Tracey.

Although she realises that her appointment was historic, that’s not the reason why she’s here.

She really does mean business.

Her independent nature was nurtured on a small family-run farm in east Cork where lifting bales and feeding cattle were common chores for her and her younger and only sister, Mary. There was never any distinction made; they got stuck in, just as everybody else.

She’s not afraid too to speak her mind.

An English and French teacher in Pobailscoil na Tríonóide in Youghal, she’s a self-confessed Arsenal supporter, Tom Clancy reader, food lover and GAA fanatic.

It would be unfair to say it’s ‘her life’, but she does live for the GAA.

Christy Ring’s name was embedded at an early age given that her uncle Patrick O’Mahony sculpted the ash for Cork’s greatest hurling legend, while her uncle Richard — ‘Danno’ — was immersed in Killeagh GAA Club.

She never took to playing, however, and administration was always her forté. Now, it’s her eye for technology, and her Diploma in Business Information Systems acquired from UCC bodes well in her new role.

“I just find the idea of technology and having instant access to news and information fascinating. I think more and more people are expecting that now, so it’s our responsibility to make that information readily available.

“It’s hard to define though what attracts me to the administration side of things. I like being organised and I like organising; I actually enjoy it!

“I can be bit of a perfectionist and I have been accused of having too high a expectation — of myself though!” she quickly smiles.

She speaks at ease in the foyer of the Midleton Park Hotel. Every sentence makes sense. She’s not one to waffle, and instantly you know Tracey Kennedy ‘knows her stuff’.

As to those who have nurtured her interest in the GAA she lists her father Paddy — who passed away in May 2010 — her mother Helen, the likes of Tommy Seward, Ray Rochford and Ger Lane.

“I’m lucky that I’ve always been surrounded by people who have always been motivated too.

“Ger Lane would have been involved in the East Cork Board when I became a delegate seven or eight years ago and he was a very efficient chairman.

“In my own club too there were very good people, the likes of Tommy Seward who would have been a fantastic secretary of our club over the years, and the likes of Ray Rochford.

“Ray’s an absolute legend. He’s very motivated. I was juvenile secretary with him for a year and that was an experience when he was chairman!

“Ray could send you 10 texts in an hour he was so on the ball, and if he thought of something there and then he was onto it straight away.

“And that’s the key; you must really want to do what you’re doing and believe in it. And I really believe in the GAA — I think it’s a fantastic community organisation.”

Whilst serving as PRO, Tracey has surprisingly opted to keep on the workload of the East Cork Board secretary too — a position afforded to her just over a year ago, and where she once again broke the glass ceiling.

“It is a lot of work but I suppose I have a lot of free time in the summer being a teacher, so from that point of view it’s not so bad.

“Technology too has made a lot of these things easier too — there’s no running to and from the post office any more. A lot of what I do is done at home on the laptop and I can do it morning, noon or night.

“I’ve only been secretary for a year and the term is five years, and in one way I didn’t want to leave the people who gave me the honour to be in that position in the first place, so I wanted to stay on while I could and take it year by year.

“Besides, they might want to see the back of me in 12 months!”

The chances? Highly unlikely.

 Tracey Kennedy speaking at the GAA Annual Congress in 2014. Picture:  SPORTSFILE

Tracey Kennedy speaking at the GAA Annual Congress in 2014. Picture: SPORTSFILE

The odds however of becoming the first female chairperson of a Cork men’s county board however are high.

Her honesty on the subject is refreshing, but her reply once again points to one thing — the task at hand.

“People have mentioned the possibility of it to me because in the last few years there has been a pattern of PROs moving on, but it’s not my focus at the moment.

“My focus now is to put in three good years. I want to put all my energy into being the best PRO that I can and try to keep up the standards put in place before me by Ger Lane.

“There’ll be time for other things down the line.”

As to her first priorities in the job, it’s very much to continue the legacy of her predecessor Ger Lane — who is said to have transformed the landscape for county PROs during his tenure.

“He very much moved it into the 21st century. There has been a history of very innovative PROs in Cork — Jim Forbes is often quoted as somebody who made big changes in his time — but I think there’s a few factors that contributed to the change in the last few years; there’s a huge drive and that motivation is key.

“My main priority is keeping the standard of the PRO office where it’s at now, because anyone whose been involved with Cork over the last few years will tell you that things are in a very good place in terms of communication, so I feel a responsibility to keep that in place and to build on it if I can.

“Things like Facebook, Twitter and our monthly newsletter have all become really important to promote the games in Cork.

“Obviously there are other things that I’m working on, and I’m hoping to try and develop some kind of communications award scheme for clubs because there is fantastic work being done.

“The standard of some websites is brilliant and a lot of clubs are incorporating other means of communication too and I think it’s important that we recognise and reward them for taking that initiative.

“Apart from that it’ll be a question of finding my feet and learning about all the things that’ll have to be done.”

Much of her job will also incorporate managing the fixtures structures, and that too is something that will be to the fore for Kennedy.

“In the last few years the leagues have become very efficient and there’s an expectation now that they’ll be completed within the calendar year, which wasn’t always the case before.

“The football league starts February 19 and the hurling on March 11 and they’ll all be finished on the first weekend in October.

“I really want to keep that in place, and clubs really need that kind of structure. I know from my own club that players really need to know when their games are on.”

Speaking of her own club, Killeagh, it’s been more than documented that the economic downturn has hugely affected rural parishes, and with it their GAA teams. However, luckily, the home of Joe Deane and Mark Landers hasn’t taken the hit too hard.

“So far we are lucky enough not to have been too badly affected by emigration just yet, though we have lost a number of players. I am aware, however, that certain areas and clubs in this county have been hit badly.

“Some of these players will be lost to us forever because by the time they return to Ireland their playing careers will be over or they will have passed their prime. It’s a very difficult issue to deal with.

“It presents us with two dilemmas; what to do for those players who have left, and what to do for those who remain? For those who leave, luckily the GAA has spread its wings to cover the world, and those who still want to play are likely to be able to find a GAA club to cater for their needs.

“For the clubs left bereft of players however the situation is more serious. At County Convention this year, a motion was passed allowing clubs who cannot field at U21 level to join with another club in similar circumstances to create an independent U21 team, and I think that we may need further measures along these lines to help clubs to survive in the future.”

There’s only two weeks gone in 2012, but already Kennedy has hit the ground running.

You just know she’ll be true to her word and give 110%.

“I know I’m going to make mistakes and there’s things I won’t know.

It’s going to be busy but I can’t wait to really get into it.

“I could be locked up by this time next year too you never know!” she smiles.

FACT-FILE

From: Killeagh

Family: Mother Helen, sister Mary, and father Paddy (deceased).

Three words to describe yourself: Ask someone else!

Hobbies: GAA, walking, cooking and reading.

Favourite film: The Constant Gardener.

Favourite book: Lord of the Rings or anything by Tom Clancy.

Favourite recipe: Chocolate roulade — or anything with chocolate in it!

Pet hates: Spiders and cucumbers.

TV show you always watch: Strictly Come Dancing and The Sunday Game

Radio show you always listen too: Sports Sunday on C103

Website you always check: rte.ie

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