To the manor born
December 30, 2010
Over the years, Ballybay's Martin McAviney has shown himself to be an upwardly mobile GAA administrator. Last March, he was elected to the office of Vice-President of the Ulster Council. By Kevin Carney.
He's front of house; the meet and greet fella. He's likely to become President of the Ulster Council in due course but, so far, Martin McAviney is quite content to work under the radar.
Very much the team player, the Ballybay Pearse Brothers stalwart sees his role as Vice-President strictly as a supporting one although he wears other GAA hats as well.
For instance, he's Chairman of the council's Integration Committee; Chairman of the council's Hurling Development Committee along with being a member of the National Appeals Committee.
One wonders what has been the major eye-opener for him on his journey thus far?
"As I graduated onto the management committee of the Ulster Council, I was amazed at the work put in by the volunteers within the Association and the number of volunteers it takes to run affairs on big match days especially and of the workload of men like Aogan (Farrell) and Christy Cooney (GAA President).
"There are so many tasks the Ulster Council has to undertake, half of which the general public aren't aware of, such as the promotion of the games, the appointment of the referees and generally all the work that goes to ensure that everything works smoothly.
"I've been amazed too at the massive work being done by the clubs across the province and the huge influence they wield in their own communities.
"I've seen how particular bodies and organisations have been anxious to link up with the GAA in a joint effort to promote various projects such as health, road safety and so on because the GAA has roots in every single parish in the country."
Being elected at the provincial council's Annual Convention in Cootehill last March was a very proud day for Martin McAviney and his family.
Though he would argue that he didn't set out to be Vice President of the Ulster Council, his GAA pedigree and the enthusiasm he has shown for hands-on roles in the Association's inner circle singled him out as a gael going places.
His apprenticeship for high office saw him initially involve himself in Ciste Gael when it was run by his club after he came home from the Shetland Islands in the early eighties.
Later he was asked by the Pearse Brothers' hierarchy do the job of Secretary; a post his father once held (along with that of treasurer).
Born and reared, as such, in a GAA house, gradually Martin chipped in at each level of the club.
In his early days involved in GAA administration, he was influenced greatly by local schoolteacher Francie McAtavie who was a long-serving secretary of the county board and it was Mr. McAtavie who is credited with him getting involved at county board level.
In addition, at county board meetings, he would have crossed paths with the legendary and inspirational Paddy O' Rourke from the Inniskeen Grattans club.
Martin believes the GAA is the greatest amateur sporting organisation in the world and is wont to stress that the Ulster Council forms an integral part of the workings of the organisation.
So holding high office in Ulster has made him an even more proud GAA man.
"The forward thinking that has made the GAA such a tremendous organisation is something to behold," he declares,"and I'm proud to be able to play a part in underpinning the vision and structures for which the Ulster Council is known.
"The leaders that have that brought us to where we are today have got to be admired."
A man passionate about the promotion of our native games and culture, he's known to be happiest at a match.
Unlike perhaps three-quarters of all GAA members north of the Galway to Dublin line of latitude, he doesn't see himself simply as a football man.
For instance, he has enjoyed greatly getting his teeth into the job of promoting hurling in the province.
One of his earliest memories of playing Gaelic games in Ballybay was when, as a juvenile, the club attempted to revitalise hurling and he confesses to having thoroughly enjoyed his time playing our "unique" game.
"I was asked to chair the hurling committee and the integration committee; both of them have defined roles.
"We have been working on integration with regard to helping to marry camogie and ladies football together with all other Gaelic games under the aegis of the GAA.
"We support them in terms of their application for funding to whatever bodies are allocating the funding.
"We also share venues with the other sports, facilitating their matches as curtain raisers to our senior games.
"To my knowledge, the status quo seems to be working okay with each of the sporting groups having their own automony while co-operating with each other to their mutual benefit."
The long-time GAA administrator is ultra-conscious of the challenges facing Ulster GAA administrators such as urbanisation, integration and inclusion.
However Martin says the passion and dedication that he has seen liberally laced through the fibres of the organisation in the province makes him confident that Ulster GAA has the footsoldiers to rise to all the challenges it faces."
"There are a lot of people employed nowadays to back up the voluntary commitment that remains forthcoming from thousands of people around the province.
"We have a strong administration staff in place and a fair sprinkling of coaches and I will be working closely with the coaches in particular over the next three years.
"These days we have sufficient number of people employed to enable us to carry out our plans and ideas once the preparation work has been done expecially, as with the strategic plan we have embarked upon.
"I am always conscious of the volunteer and the role he or she plays in the running and promotion of our games but there's a need too to make sure that these people aren't overburdened with work.
"There's an unbelievable amount of work being done but I think there's a good balance at present between the number of full-time personnel we have on board and the number of volunteers that are giving their time and energy.
"At the minute the model we have (the personnel) that suits Ulster's need. We have to continue to work hard though to keep the voluntary people on board."
He believes the GAA in Ulster is in rude good health right now. He is fulsome in his praise of the continuing efforts by clubs across the province to improve their facilities on an ongoing basis.
He recalls when the gaels of Monaghan pledged to see a revamping of club facilities around the county.
"Monaghan club facilities have improved beyond recognition over the past 20 or 25 years and those facilities continue to be developed.
"Some of the work undertaken by clubs down the years has been unreal and they have done amazingly well to keep pace with other clubs from the rest of the counties.
"Back in the 'eighties, there were maybe two or three games capable of staging big championship games but now we have easily 15 grounds in that position."
Year after year, the team to emerge from Ulster has proven that they have what it takes to give the All-Ireland a great shot and Martin doesn't see things changing in that respect, at least not in the short term.
"The work that continues to go in at underage levels is amazing and the talent continues to come through at club and county development squad level because the effort is going in.
"Tyrone have been especially prominent at underage levels down the years but they didn't sit on their laurels."
Is it a fait accompli that in three years time Martin McAviney will become President of the Ulster Council?
"No, not at all. We hold the position for a certain period of time and then you have an opportunity to try and attain higher office or some other position and if you get the necessary support from the delegates you are successful.
"There's nothing to stop a person running for office. I would aspire to be President of the council in three years time but there will be nothing to stop someone from running against me at that point."
He's wont to re-iterate that he works hand-in-glove with Ulster Council President Aogan Farrell and council Secretary Danny Murphy, both of whom he generously lauds.
Any ambition though, down the line, to follow the lead of his fellow countymen Sean McCague and Paraic Duffy and hit the capital?
"Listen, I have only the three years as Vice-President and the roles within that office in focus right now.
"I hope to be guided by the President (Aogan Farrell) and to work closely with Danny Murphy and my other colleagues and do the best that I can in the job.
"If, after the three years, I can safely say I did my best and people are pleased that I have made a contribution then I will be happy."
Watch this space!
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