Nenagh Guardian Ed Donnelly Interview

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From the Nenagh Guardian newspaper

Regarded as the best PRO in the country, Ed Donnelly stepped down from his role at County Convention recently. Shane Brophy spoke to him about his five and a half years in the job where he effectively developed a template for future aspirants to follow.

It is very rare when in the lead up to an end of year convention, the departure of a retiring chairman is overshadowed that of another board member. But that has been the case as Tipperary GAA’s popular PRO Ed Donnelly stepped down from the post he effectively modernised in his five and a half year term in office and one that a lot of the new breed of PROs all over the country aspire to.

The introduction of the five-year limit on positions on county boards was welcomed but many focused their attention on benefits of removing people that overstayed their welcome and it is only recently when people suddenly realised that good people are being lost also. However, Ed, regarded as the leading light of the new generation of PROs in the country, is a supporter of the rule.

"I agree with the five-year rule which may seem strange but around this time last year, I knew I had one year to go and I made sure to make an almighty effort and when the year ends to just move on and that’s the attitude I had. "There is no doubt that I’ll miss it. I have really enjoyed the job. I wouldn’t have put in the work that I have put in over the last five and half years without enjoying it. "The one thing I didn’t want was to get stale in the job and to be honest in the fourth year, I won’t say it was a chore but I was thinking what else can I do differently and when I could see the finish line, I said there were some things I wanted to do before I move on.

The magnanimous Moycarkey man has just about turned the keys of his new home in Horse & Jockey when the post became available following the resignation of Liz Howard in the summer of 2003. Already moderator of the website and the chairman of the IT Committee, Ed swept into office and set about defining the role of a modern GAA Public Relations Officer. "The role of a PRO, certainly five years ago would have been the last job given out at an AGM and was usually give to the secretary or chairman that had just stood down and it was the case of giving him a role. It’s more communications rather than PR. It’s not simply that just putting in the club notes, there is so much more to it. "I tried to bring what expertise I had in Information Technology to the role. What I found when I took up the job when talking to Munster Council, even Croke Park was there was no template there on what a PRO should do.

"It was really up to myself and to what I wanted to make out of the job and having lived outside of Tipperary for two-thirds of my life, being in the US for 13 years and Limerick for 14, I know what it is like living away from home and I know what it is like to love Tipperary and I found it very difficult to find out what was happening and to be able to make plans while in Limerick to come back and see a club match or a county match. "What I also found was that in all the local newspapers, the GAA news was there but it was all over the place and I felt we could bring it all together in one place plus maybe do a bit of research and that’s where the Tipperary GAA Scene developed from.

"Initially it was difficult to get that network going but now, I have to decide what to leave out but the advantage is because I look after the website as well is everything goes into the website to promote as many aspects of the GAA as possible." With hurling and football at senior level becoming professional in all but name over the past ten years, access to managers and players on county players is not as straightforward as it used to be.

Indeed when consulting veteran PROs around the country on their relationship with the media, the majority felt that they should be kept at arms length but Ed felt that wasn’t the way forward. "I suppose in the back pages of the paper you get the negative story but I felt that there is so much good going on in the GAA at all levels and I felt rather than being reactive the whole time, I made a conscious decision that if there was anything at all happening, such as a game, to get out press packs or player profiles.

"To give the media the information and be proactive about it, what I found was in turn then I got to build up a good rapport with the media and strangely, you’d find you get less negative stuff about Tipperary at national level." Last year, the Tipperary County Board organised Press Evenings, ten to twelve days in advance of championship games where the manager and a selected group of players could give all media outlets what they wanted in the build up to the game, leaving them free to fully concentrate on the game without any distractions.

The coverage of GAA on local radio has reared its head a number of times during his term with many followers disappointed by the perceived lack of airtime to sport, particularly on Tipp FM. "One of the first things I did when I came in was to go down to Tipp FM and met the CEO and the Head of Sport and the number of live games then would have been, comparing it to other local radio stations was quite low. We had a conversation about where the weaknesses were and in fairness over two to three years it did improve in terms of live games.

"Tipperary is a sporting county, but GAA is number one and we wanted to make sure that the games were covered as best as possible and in fairness, the preview programme has been a great success and is at a better time of a Saturday afternoon. There is the Extra Time programme as well as Aon Gno Eile with Michéal O’Meara. "Is it as good as other counties? I lived in Limerick for many years, there is good GAA coverage there and they even sponsor the championship. I can tune into Kilkenny radio, I have listened to Clare FM for years; other counties would have more and that is something we would strive for with Tipp FM as well. We are making steps, there are improvements year on year and I would hope that with the new County Board further improvements would be made.

In everything Ed did for the county board, it was all done in a voluntary capacity despite him already having a quite demanding job as a European Project Manager in the Human Resources Department of the Dell computer company in Limerick. A job that was already time consuming but as the proverb goes, "if you want a job done, ask a busy man". "Over the five years, there was only one month where I didn’t travel abroad but in some respects it was a good thing because with modern technology, the laptop has probably been my best friend and when taking a flight or away in hotels, that would be an opportunity for me to catch up on things.

"I have been lucky that for the past seven years my boss has been living in the UK so he is never seen and the four bosses I have had during my time, they don’t know anything about hurling or the GAA. They know that I am involved in PRO but they don’t know the level. As best as I could, tried to combine the two, which meant working late sometimes to make up the time. At the end of the day, that’s what pays the mortgage. "I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t love it and as the kids got older they were coming along to matches rather than leaving them at home at it became a bit easier as time went on," he said.

So what was a typical day in the life of Ed Donnelly, Tipperary PRO? "I have an opportunity to work from home, two/three days a week but for the days I am in Limerick, it is up at 6am, into Limerick for 7.30am, getting back to Tipperary about 6 in the evening. The trip home from the start to the end would be on the phone, responding to the media, compiling a match programme, and get home for an hour before heading back into Thurles for training or a meeting. It’s probably being out two-three nights during the weeknights and Saturday and Sunday is at matches. "Strangely enough, people would think that during the summer that I am crazy busy but that’s when I was the quietest. In the summer, there is very little club activity, which means you are only covering the county teams plus the club championship is divisional at that stage which is not in my remit. "Its when it comes to September to December is crazy and is just a matter of trying to squeeze it all in to the day. It could be a matter of getting home after midnight and then you are off at six again the next morning and off you go."

So as he takes his leave of his post, what here his high and low points of his tenure? "The high would be that up to June this year, I had never seen Tipperary beat Cork in the Munster Championship. For six years around the end of the eighties and early nineties, I used to go to New York every summer where I was born and had connections, and during that time, Tipp were successful and I came back and saw the 1992 game which Tipp lost in what was Brian Corcoran’s first game and after that, Tipp didn’t beat Cork for years. So the first time to be in the country to see that and especially in Pairc Ui Chaoimh to get over the hoodoo was great.

"The low was in 2004 when in my first year as PRO when the footballers didn’t fulfil a fixture against Fermanagh. Some would call it a strike, but that was disappointing and it put me in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. It was the most difficult period over the five years covering that."

Tipperary’s loss is his native Moycarkey’s gain as he takes over as secretary of the Mid Tipp club. He will also remain as the moderator of the impressive Tipperary website as well as being on the IT, Communications and 125th Anniversary committees. However, come the New Year when Tipperary teams get back into action, Ed will be back where it all began, in the stands and he admits it will be a little strange. "My ability never matched my interest on the hurling field. I was a bad junior player at best and to be able to have the privilege to get to know the players and management of all the teams at both hurling and football and to see the minors of 2003 blossom into seniors a few years later has been a thrill for me.

"At the end of the day, I am a fan and a supporter and to be so close to the team was great and I will miss that a lot. Being so close, you get an appreciation for the effort that goes in and hopefully when I go back to the stand, I won’t be shouting the same way I used to and at the end of the day, with five minutes to go, we will all be shouting on our team and being passionate about it."

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