By Kevin Corrigan
MICHAEL Duignan was elected as Offaly GAA chairman tonight, beating the incumbent Tommy Byrne by 76 votes to 62 in a fiercely contested contest on an evening of incredible tension and drama at annual Convention.
With a near full turnout of officers and club representatives, Duignan’s victory had been widely expected in recent days as word began to emerge of club’s voting intentions – while he had been expected to win the vast majority of votes in the hurling strongholds in the south of the county, it had become clear in the past two weeks that he was picking off crucially important big and small clubs in the north, mid and west of the county. There were big turning points in recent days that swung the contest decisively in Duignan's favour and these will be outlined and analysed in next week's Tribune.
It was not as comprehensive as some observers might have expected and a swing of two or three clubs would have had a different result but just as the winner picked off votes in Tommy Byrne's core territory, the defeated candidate won some votes in the hurling strongholds in south Offaly where Duignan was targeting a clean sweep.
His election, however, sparked a significant split with some outgoing officers on the Management Committee opting out. Assistant treasurer Brian Flynn (Ferbane), vice chairman, Niall Gleeson, who was also nominated as assistant secretary where Pauric Pierce (Raheen) had previously announced he wasn't going forward, PRO Mary Dunne (Ballyfore), Cultural Officer, John Moloney (Tullamore) and Children's Officer, Nora Kavanagh (Tullamore) all stepped down. Gleeson (for assistant secretary), Flynn, Dunne and Moloney would all have been elected unopposed if they had stood but it had been clear earlier in the day that there would be departures if Duignan won – not all of those departures may be related to Duignan's win though most certainly are. Children's Officer is an appointment by the Management Committee but Kavanagh said she would not be going forward again.
Flynn had informed clubs over the weekend that he would not be standing if Tommy Byrne was beaten, praising the outgoing chairman and the treasurer, Jimmy Hogan (Birr) and citing the increased workload that would result if new inexperienced officers were put in place.
Durrow club man, Duignan had put himself forward as part of a package where Edenderry’s Colm
Cummins and Clara’s Dervill Dolan and Brian Gavin were nominated for vice chairman, treasurer and Leinster Council delegate respectively.
However, not everything went according to plan for Duignan and co as Cummins was surprisingly beaten for vice chairman, losing out to Rhode's James Murphy by just two votes, 70 to 68. That will be seen as a rebuke for elements of the Michael Duignan led process and the way they went about their business as Cummins was crucial to their plans and to the new chairman in particular. However, he may now seek election for one of the unfilled positions, which will be up for grabs at a County Board meeting in the new year, most likely assistant secretary or assistant treasurer.
While it had been expected that Duignan's full package would succeed once he was elected and they had made a powerful push for this, Murphy's victory is a tribute also to his popularity and the great work he has done in a variety of roles in recent years, as chairman of the Finance Committee and also as the board's development officer – he is also a former Rhode GAA chairman. It is also clear that Murphy won a significant number of those north/mid/west Offaly clubs that fell to Duignan and this helped ensure his election.
Dervill Dolan was elected treasurer, beating the long serving Jimmy Hogan (Birr) by 87-53 in a vote while Brian Gavin unseated Kilcormac/Killoughey's Dolores Slevin as a Leinster Council delegate, getting 51 votes – the other outgoing delegate Joe Higgins (Tubber) was re-elected with 52 votes.
Pat Horan (St Rynagh's), Paddy Scales (St Rynagh's) and Martin Cashen (Carrig/Riverstown) were elected unopposed as secretary, Central Council delegate and coaching officer. It means that there are now vacancies for assistant secretary, assistant treasurer, PRO and cultural officer. Clubs will have the right to nominate again for these positions and there could be more contests – though the new chairman will have an opportunity to get favoured candidates to go forward and strengthen his hand in the Management Committee as he bids to get his plans off the ground.
Duignan and the others had put themselves forward after a somewhat controversial meeting convened in Tullamore’s Central Hotel a few months ago – this meeting was attended by approximately fifty people and included former county footballers and hurlers, club officers and supporters. They backed calls for change in the Offaly GAA County Board and announced their candidates in the wake of disputed meetings with Tommy Byrne – Byrne claimed he had been asked to step down at these meetings and this was denied by Duignan. The new group has sought to take Offaly GAA in a “different direction”, with a “new vision”.
The manner in which the meeting was called and the fact that the other candidates announced
they would not stand if Duignan was not elected angered some clubs but didn’t have a telling
influence when the campaigns gathered traction – there was a strong, powerful mood for change at grass roots level in the county but delegates may have decided to give them a smack on their wrists by not electing the full package.
A former Offaly hurler and footballer, Duignan won All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship medals in 1994 and 1998 along with an All-Star award in ’98. A native of Banagher and a long time player with St Rynagh’s in both codes, he also played with Durow and Ballinamere after moving into the area several years ago and worked as chairman of the Ballinamere/Durrow minor club as well as a manager/mentor with some of their successful underage hurling sides.
He has retained a prominent national profile since his playing days ended thanks to his work as a hurling analyst with RTE – he hopes to continue doing this if his contract is renewed by the state
Gracefield man Tommy Byrne is a long serving official. He became assistant secretary of the County Board in 2002 and then became chairman that December, serving two years before stepping down. He returned later to serve five years as assistant secretary, five years as secretary and was elected chairman after Ferbane’s Padraig Boland stepped down three years ago. He was hoping to be elected for a fourth year tonight – officers can only serve five years in the one position before they must step down. He has been a controversial figure at times and has been centrally involved in the quick end of a number of managerial reigns – Paul O’Kelly, Gerry Fahy and Stephen Wallace in football and Kevin Martin in hurling. He also found himself embroiled in a row with a hurling development committee that was chaired by Coolderry man Liam Hogan over the implementation of their recommendations.
The contest was fiercely contested. Michael Duignan and company met clubs in groups of four and
five as well as meeting and talking to club officers and delegates on an individual basis. They mounted a very comprehensive detailed canvass and managed to win clubs as they succeeded in
turning it into a populist contest rather than one dictated purely by club officers – in some cases,
members forced votes at meetings, overturning decisions or desires by club committees to back the
Tommy Byrne also staged a comprehensive canvass. A proven vote getter and winner of contests, he went to some club meetings and spoke to the big influences in clubs but soon found himself
swimming against the tide. He was able to cite several positive and encouraging developments that
have taken place during his time, the appointment of good county football and hurling managers in
John Maughan and Michael Fennelly and his vast experience but ultimately, he couldn’t counter the
desire for change among the wider Offaly GAA public.
There will now be considerable pressure on and scrutiny of the new regime and one of their first
and most important tasks will be to unite the county and ensure that the GAA is all inclusive in
Both candidates conducted their campaigns with great dignity and respect, though there was some disquiet at public utterances by some of Michael Duignan's supporters.
After his defeat, a gracious Tommy Byrne congratulated Michael Duignan on his success, expressing the wish that things go well for him in the coming years. He hoped Offaly's fate improves and promised to give short term help over the next few weeks to the new chairman before taking a break from all GAA activities. He said: “There is not really a lot for me to say. The delegates have spoken and I am fine with that decision.”
Michael Duignan was also dignified in his acceptance speech. He said he was very humbled and honoured to be elected Offaly GAA chairman, thanking the delegates who voted for him. He thanked all clubs for the interaction they had with them over the last couple of months. “It has inspired me and motivated me for the future of Offaly GAA. The response we got from people we met, the ideas that people have and the passion that is there for Offaly GAA is fantastic.”
He paid tribune to Tommy Byrne for his dedication and commitment to Offaly GAA over many years. “None of this was personal. It was a fair fight and I would like to wish you and Jacinta the very best for the future.”
Duignan concluded by saying he was looking forward to working with the incoming Management Committee, the County Board, clubs and schools. “I just want to unite Offaly GAA after this challenging campaign,” he declared.
Offaly's Congress delegates will be the chairman, secretary, Paddy Scales, Eamon Dunican (Erin Rovers) and Ciaran Groome (Bracknagh). The Leinster GAA Convention delegates are the chairman, secretary, Padraig O'Meara (Clara) and Ciaran Groome (Bracknagh).
Bracknagh were named as the club of the year for 2019 and the underage club of the year is Kilcormac/Killoughey.