Tom Daly - following a great manís lead

This Saturday in Toomebridge, Aodh Ruadhís Tom Daly will be elected President of the Ulster Council. A combination of factors have conspired to ensure that Tom Daly would one day assume the highest office in Ulster GAA.

While working in Lifford for the County Committee of Agriculture, he would learn from, among others, Harry Carey, one of the previous three Donegal men (1962- 1964) to serve as president of the Ulster Council.

It would seem that his rise to one of the most senior GAA positions in the country had more than a touch of the inevitable about it. Here, Michael Daly, writes about his brother, Tom.

At the GAA's annual congress held in Bundoran at Easter 1974 local priest Fr Frank Little paid tribute to the late Hugh Daly, the longest serving secretary of the GAA in Donegal, who, a year earlier, had passed away.

Many GAA dignitaries, among them national GAA president Donal Keenan and national secretary Sean O Siochain were present to hear Fr Little suggest that the most fitting legacy to Hugh Daly would be if one or more of his sons or daughters should follow in their father's footsteps.

Referring directly to his four sons and three daughters, who ranged in ages from 10 to 20 at that time, Fr Little, according to the Democrat stated: This wonderful man has left them an example they should be proud to follow. It is an example that would be hard to follow and if they did follow it, they would be following in the right path.'

In various ways all seven have followed that path but it is fair to say his eldest son, Tom, has, followed those footsteps in a very big way.

Tom has risen to the highest possible office for a GAA official in Ulster, becoming only the fourth Donegal man ever, to be elected president of the GAA's Ulster Council and with it, automatically becomes a national vice-president of the GAA. This year also sees Tom complete his 20th consecutive year as a member or Officer of the GAA's Ulster Council.

19 years old when his father died, it was perhaps inevitable that Tom would opt for a similar path to his much eulogised father. His first major GAA speech was thrust upon him at the graveside of his father where, on behalf of his mother, Mary, and the family he returned thanks to GAA president Donal Keenan following the unveiling of a commemorative GAA headstone to his late father.

Tom's elevation this weekend to a position, last held by a Donegal man in the 1960s, is rich and deserving reward for his remarkable contribution to the GAA at local, county and national level.

Tom has been involved, one way or the other in the GAA throughout his life.

A keen club footballer with senior championship, senior reserve championship and league medals, he would be modest about his football ability but those who played with or against him would agree that he was a fine and fiercely competitive club hurler in particular - winning senior shield and junior championship medals in Donegal.

However, Tom Daly's major contribution to the GAA was never going to be with either his feet or a hurley, but with his head.

They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and those that knew his father and now know or work via the GAA with his son, would agree that the son has inherited his father's intellect and administrative acumen, and with it a few tricks of his own.

Deeply passionate about the nurturing of gaelic games and the provision of top class facilities for all who play the games, Tom Daly has and continues to give remarkable tracts of his often limited time to the GAA.

Within the former North Western Health Board (NWHB), now HSE, he has served in various senior management positions up to and including assistant Chief Executive Officer. More recently he completed three years as chairman of Comhairle - the semi-state board responsible for national citizen's information advice and advocacy services. He is living proof that should you need something done, the best person to ask is a busy man or woman.

But, as Tom might say, that's just 'work' and he manages to combine 'the day job' with his GAA activities. He gives of his time, free and not so free, unsparingly and his election as Ulster president is, not before its time, just reward and recognition for his truly heroic voluntary contribution to the GAA.

The irony of his elevation is not lost on him, in that his 'new post' ensures he will be even busier - if that's possible.

Tom's upward GAA curve will always have its roots in the local club, having played underage football and hurling with Aodh Ruadh.

Working for the Donegal County Committee of Agriculture in Lifford, as a raw 20-year-old, coincidentally under the tutelage of a former Ulster GAA president Harry Carey, Tom quickly got involved in helping to relaunch the Lifford GAA club where he served as club treasurer - overseeing with others, including Packie Keeney, the McDermott family and Danny Bannigan, to name but a few, the purchase, for the first time, of a new club-owned playing field (at the Roughan).

Carey's influence was important; he provided a living link with his father's past and their conversations sharpened his desire to get involved at official level in the GAA, starting with representing the Lifford club at county committee level.

He and Harry Carey shared a passion for the GAA, Carey having served his province with distinction from 1962 to '64.

The links that bring people together are often coincidental but important; Carey and Tom's father were friends and GAA colleagues at provincial level - and there was an even stronger linkage, Carey, like Hugh Daly, hailing from Corlea on the border near Belleek.

Although his stay in Lifford was relatively brief, Tom Daly retains a special fondness for Lifford GAA club. Somewhere in his home you will find a monstrously garish plastic and marble trophy presented to him for his work and indeed his playing commitment to Lifford GAA. The trophy, typical of its time, may never win any design awards, but what it stands for, to this day remains very important to him. Lifford was his first taste of giving something back and using the skills he would gradually hone and perfect to ensure smaller clubs like Lifford were given their chance to blossom in Donegal.

However, a change in job saw him leave Lifford and having just moved to the NWHB and back home to Ballyshannon, he was out for a post-Christmas walk when he literally stumbled upon a notice in Dorrian's hotel window declaring that the Aodh Ruadh club agm was proceeding inside.

He walked into the meeting casually, with no agenda, literally off the street. Two hours later he left the meeting as club chairman, taking over the role from former Ulster great Jim Gallagher. He served as Aodh Ruadh chairman for four years and one of his innovations was a club constitution that required a time limit of no more than three years to be served by any one person as chairman - a policy that has worked hugely to the advantage of Aodh Ruadh in ensuring new blood and new ideas.

He came into the club at an interesting time, the glory years of an amalgamated Bundoran/Ballyshannon team under the St. Joseph's banner had ended.

Aodh Ruadh, the old and much loved name for the club, was re-emerging and he quickly set about a programme of works to ensure the club rooms and football pitch on The Rock would reach and maintain the very highest of standards and that the playing base of the club and its role in the local community would be expanded. In 1981 the revitalised Aodh Ruadh club quickly made its mark, winning, for the first and only time to date, the AIB County Club of the Year Award.

Getting and raising monies was vital. There were successes and there were failures, one of the most puzzling failures a Chieftains concert in the local Mercy Hall. Getting the group to Ballyshannon was an absolute coup, but locals didn't think so. Estimates vary, but it's generally accepted that the event attracted no more than 65 people. The Chieftains, capable of selling out Carnegie Hall at that time were bigger than Riverdance is today. But, for reasons that remain a mystery to this day, the concert bombed. If it was a mistake, it was one from which more was learned than was lost. Undaunted, he kept pushing.

Fundraising efforts were redoubled and piece by piece a new and magnificent Fr. Tierney Park, Ballyshannon emerged and to this day he chairs the park/development committee of the club where development, real and planned, is ongoing.

Starting out at a very local level, Tom has and continues to make a massive contribution to his home club, Aodh Ruadh

One of his real strengths was always his ability to propose, find funds and complete development projects at club level.

Few have ever better understood the maze of support and grant mechanisms that exist to help voluntary groups to build new facilities than Tom Daly. Club and county officials have long marvelled at his uncanny knack to locate and deliver funds to ensure major capital projects were started and completed - projects such as the stand at Fr Tierney Park, the new training/playing fields at the Munday's Field development and the impressive Aras Aodh Ruadh, all of them ambitious and expensive projects to undertake by a club with very limited finances.

Indeed a measure of his commitment to Aodh Ruadh was apparent in 1987 when he stood down as County Youth Officer to co-ordinate a year-long campaign to convince Donegal County Council to re-locate a proposed Local Authority housing scheme away from 'Munday's Field' - formerly known as the Workhouse Meadow and the site for the first hurling and football matches played by the fledgling Aodh Ruadh club in 1909. The campaign was successful and that acquisition together with some further property acquired later is now the proposed site for the new Aodh Ruadh Centre of Excellence where development work will commence over the next six to eight weeks.

Combined with the adjacent Fr Tierney Park, Aodh Ruadh by its centenary year in 2009, will have some of the best playing facilities in the country.

However, there were many much simpler innovations which can trace their origin to Tom's eye for an idea. In 1980, shortly after his elevation to the post of chairman at Aodh Ruadh, he began sending small but brief snippets of news from the club to his local newspaper, the Donegal Democrat. At that time this was a virtually unknown means of communicating and disseminating information for GAA clubs - a practice that is now common place for all sporting clubs.

His ability to lead the revitalisation of his local club, and his all too apparent ability to identify realistic funding for GAA based projects ensured that he was much sought after at county and later provincial level.

Tom has served as chairman of his own club Aodh Ruadh for two terms - 1980 to 1983 and 1990 to 1992 where he combined club, county and provincial roles. He has over 20 years' continuous service with the club as chairman of its park/development committee. As well as underage service, he played hurling and football with Aodh Ruadh without a break from 1980 to 1994.

At county board level he served as a member of the County Executive/Management Committee for 16 years and also as County Youth Officer in 1985 and 1986 and as County Vice Chairman from 1990 to 1992. He was one of Donegal's representatives on the Ulster Council of the GAA from 1988 to 2001. In 2001 he was elected treasurer of the Ulster Council, a position he held for three years.

In 2004 he was elected Vice-President of the Ulster Council and in that capacity chaired both the province's Hurling Development Committee and its Provincial Integration Committee, focusing on growing the co-operation between all of the gaelic codes and organisations, including ladies football and camogie.

Among the things that give him greatest satisfaction from his six year period as an officer of the Ulster Council are the modernisation programme embracing the development of football and hurling coaching structures and the exciting county grounds floodlighting programme which at this stage is one third completed.

On the games front Tom has invested significant time to achieve the establishment of the Ulster Senior Hurling League which started last year and which, in 2007, will see 67 senior club teams playing competitive league matches through five divisions and will add something close to 180 matches to the club hurling programme in the province.

Tom's involvement with the GAA at national level includes a period as secretary of the GAA's National Insurance Work Group, a member of the National Referees' Administration Committee, a member of the GAA's Commercial and Marketing Committee and recently a two year stint as vice-chairman of the National Games Administration Committee (GAC) and he is currently a member of the new Competitions Control Committee at national level.

This article is republished by the kind permission of the Donegal Democrat where it first appeared on Thursday, 22 February.

Report Filed: 25 February 2006