“Gender isn’t a difficulty,” says the primary feminine chairman of the New York GAA
Joan Henchy insists that “gender is not an issue” after being elected the first female chairman of the New York GAA.
That way, she is only the third woman to lead a GAA county board and the first outside of Ireland. She follows in the footsteps of Tyrones Roisin Jordan and Corks Tracey Kennedy – but doesn’t want to get into too much of the achievement.
“The association has developed so much over the past 20 years that I don’t even see gender,” says Henchy. “When you use your name for positions and clubs that you support, gender does not matter. It is based on your record and work ethic and who can do the best job for the club.
“Fortunately, I think gender didn’t play a big role at all. But I’m very proud and it’s great for younger girls to get through. It shows that if they want to get involved, it can be done.”
Although Henchy was born in the United States, he grew up in Tarbert before returning to the Empire State in 1985.
Henchy, the daughter of former Fianna Fáil Senator Dan Kiely, has immersed herself in New York GAA over the past two decades – as a public relations officer, registrar, and trustee – and has just completed her maximum five-year tenure as district secretary.
While admitting the job seems “daunting” in many ways, it is determined to build on the massive advances made in recent years among minors.
“My main goal is to continue the growth of our youth and development teams and to work with the minor board to get more playing fields that we miss.
We have county development squads for 17-22 year olds, both soccer and hurling, that do great. For the past five years, my main focus has been to build a bridge between you and the senior panel.
“We want the young children to know that one day they can make it to the senior team and proudly wear their county jerseys when they play against Roscommon or Galway.
“The pairing and timing challenges are similar to county boards across Ireland – although the New York situation is a little different in that regard. Summer is our championship season and it has been a challenge to play the games off while maximizing the contribution of our 90 day penalties.
“At the senior level, there could be 10 consecutive game weekends and it’s very difficult for players to have personal lives. We do our best, but we are growing in size. Our Junior Division alone has 22 teams, and almost all of our games are played in Gaelic Park. “
Henchy is expected to build a new clubhouse at the county headquarters in the Bronx for years and has asked her predecessor, Laurence McGrath, to remain on the board of directors to streamline the process.
“Fundraising is ongoing and work is expected to start in the new year. The project should then take about 12 months, ”she says.
At the inter-county level, Henchy is defiantly against any restructuring of the All-Ireland Football Championships that would jeopardize the status of New York Province or require a fall game as part of a new two-tier system – but welcomes additional games with open arms.
“For me, New York is part of the Connacht Championship and I will do everything I can to maintain our status.
“From a provincial perspective, we’ve been involved since 1999 and I want to make sure we keep our commitment. A game like this is hugely important to the Irish community here.
It’s a day everyone enjoys and people come from near and far to be a part of it no matter the outcome.
“Any restructuring must include and include New York, and an October date would not be desirable. We want to break that glass ceiling and win our first round, and we’re not too far away. “
Henchy believes local players have a vital role to play in achieving this goal and will hold the keys to the future.
“The focus has to be on our local players. Immigration has slowed down and it would be very wrong of us to say otherwise. “
Longford-born Gerry Fox has taken the reins of the senior team after leading the Sligo Club to its first senior football title in New York and is on Henchy’s wavelength.
“He has great structures and plans, and that includes some of our development teams,” she says.
“The development team manager is a selector to identify our children and 15 of them have been appointed to the panel. It is really exciting to see the fruits of our labor in recent years. “