Ruislip is bustling; there is hope in the crisp, spring London air. GAA President Aogan O’Fearghail deals with requests for photographs and a word from eager wellwishers with commendable class and decency.
That is just the way it is for O’Fearghail now. Being the face of the organisation carries significant responsibility, but the Cavan native is thrilled to embrace this fascinating challenge. “It is a demanding role, but it is a rewarding one,” O’Fearghail admits. “I was well aware of how demanding it would be. I had a year as President elect. I was fortunate that I had a very close relationship with the President Liam O’Neill.
“We worked very, very well together. I said to Liam the very evening I was elected that I would never be far away, but that I wouldn’t be in his way. That is the way we had it. I was able to watch and know what was happening.
“It is very busy and I’m not saying that in any complaining way. I absolutely love it, but it is incredibly busy. There isn’t an hour in the day when you haven’t something to do, somewhere to go or someone to meet.
“That is the role of the President of the GAA. It is such a vibrant organisation. It is incredible. I think many of us involved in it don’t even realise how much is happening. It is quite phenomenal.”
Being in such a high profile position ensures O’Fearghail is warmly greeted everywhere, but he feels more a sense of satisfaction than pride. “I was brought up in a house where pride was a deadly sin,” O’Fearghail jokes. “So I can’t say I feel too much pride, but I certainly feel great satisfaction. Incredible satisfaction. No matter where I go, what club I go to, the respect I get.
“They don’t know me as an individual which is great. So then I realise it isn’t me they have the respect for because they don’t know me, but they know the office of President. There is an incredible respect for the Presidency of the GAA.
“Greater than I even expected. When you come to somewhere like this and the people I’m meeting in Ruislip - they are just so delighted to have the link with home as they see it. The GAA is probably the one constant in their lives-apart from their own family lives I’d say the GAA is the big, warm centre piece to all their lives. When they meet the GAA President they are pleased and I’m pleased that they are pleased.”
When asked whether there is anything specific he would like to implement or see happen while in office O’Fearghail offers an interesting reply. “Not really because then it would be about me and what I want to do. It is not about me.
“This is about the great association of the GAA. I want to see it strengthened. I want to see GAA clubs and counties having a lot more activity. Things I mentioned here at Ruislip. I’d like to see our governing structures improving, I’d like to see more children taking part having enjoyable experiences.
“We often talk about the GAA as something for life. I’d like to see that being strengthened by us having a happy association. We’ve over 1 million members, our games are absolutely special. They are fabulous – they are the heart of what we do. I’d like to see them grow.
“I wouldn’t pick out one particular thing, of course I have ideas myself which I will be working with the management committee on. I’m not going to put a particular issue out there. Then that is about me wanting to do something. It isn’t about me.
“This is about the association which is way bigger than any of us. I will be gone off the stage in a few years time, others will still be there. I just simply want to see the association strengthened. I want to see more people playing our games and enjoying the GAA.”