Tracy Bunyan, GAA Coaching & Games Development Operations Manager, at Croke Park in Dublin.
Tracy Bunyan, GAA Coaching & Games Development Operations Manager, at Croke Park in Dublin. 

Tracy Bunyan a trailblazer for women in sports administration

By John Harrington

No day is the same for the GAA's Coaching and Games Development Operations Manager, Tracy Bunyan, apart from one defining characteristic - they're all busy.

Her brief is a huge one that covers the full range of coaching and games development programmes nationwide and she somehow also combines it with the role of Secretary for the GAA Standing Committee on the Playing Rules.

A talented footballer and camóg in her own playing days, she still laces up her boots on a regular basis to coach her children's teams in St. Vincent's GAA club in Dublin.

On International Women's Day we catch up with Bunyan to chat about her pathway in sports administration, love of Gaelic games, and her optimism is that the GAA will continue to evolve into a more and more diverse sporting organisation. Tracy, tell me about the house you grew up in? I believe your family is steeped in Gaelic games so you were born into it?

Tracy Bunyan: I was. I grew up in a little village called Ballyduff in North Kerry. My family would be steeped in the GAA through my Dad and my Mom. My Dad played football and hurling for Kerry. My mom played camogie for Ballyduff. My Dad played football for Ballydonoghue and Shannon Rangers and hurling for Ballyduff so we've a very strong tradition of GAA in my house.

Growing up my sister and I would have played football and camogie and my brother would have played hurling and football with Ballyduff GAA club as well. So, yeah, we have a big background in it. Both my parents coached, so it became a way of life for us, really. So you played both codes?

TB: I did play both codes. I played Ladies Football with Ballyduff and camogie with Newcastlewest in Limerick. We had some relatives living down there and they had a camogie club and through my sister who was a better camogie player than I was, they poached her, and she went down and I followed.

My first love would have been Ladies football. I played with the club, minor with Kerry, and I also played O'Connor Cup with WIT, we lost an O'Connor Cup Final in 2000 when we were beaten by Sligo IT. I moved to Dublin, started playing with Portobello Ladies Football Club and spent around five or six years playing there and won a Dublin Junior A Championship and retired and now I have two small kids and we're involved in St. Vincent's GAA club.

I'm coaching U-9 now up there with the boys. It's a fantastic club with a wonderful set-up. For me and Oran my little fellow there's a massive sense of community up in St. Vincent's. I suppose it's because the club is connected into the local school as well. It's a very big part of the community in Marino so you do know everybody and you know all the coaches through your kids because they're in the same class or different activities with each other.

There is a real cohesion to the club and the community of Marino as well. I've been involved up there for the last couple of years since he was involved at nursery and last year was the first year of Go Games. My daughter Siún is six and she's in the club nursery since last year.

My husband who is a Dub who has no background in GAA at all is now coaching in the nursery too. You're hooking them in as much as you can!

Tracy Bunyan helps coach her children's teams in St. Vincent's GAA club in Dublin. 
Tracy Bunyan helps coach her children's teams in St. Vincent's GAA club in Dublin. What has been the pathway for your career in sports administration?

TB: I did a BA in Recreation and Leisure down in WIT many years ago and after that I worked as a Sports Promotions fficer with Wicklow VEC. So I was there for about five years working in different communities in Bray and delivering sport as interventions to young people in disadvantaged areas and working with a number of sport national governing bodies who were operating in Wicklow to get their sports and improved and developed in the town.

After that I became the sports coordinator for Wicklow Local Sports Partnership. So that would have been funded through Sport Ireland and I would have been there for three years, again kind of a broader remit around the strategic development of sport in the county. Again, working with all the national governing bodies and their development officers. Pulling in funding for sport development and physical activity development.

I spent three years doing that across the county working with every sporting code down there. And then I left there and came to Croke Park. That was in 2012. So I would have come in as the deputy head of stadium operations. A very different role to what I was used to. Not as much sports development orientated. It was around the operation of big match days here. So all the games that happen in the stadium, concerts, the day to day operations in the stadium. It gave me a good balance because my career until then had been very much around sports development. Now it was about major event management in the sporting and non-sporting world.

I spent around four years in stadium operations then a role came up in Coaching and Games and I went back into that. I was looking after the Super Games programme which is aimed at 12 to 17 year olds and is a recreational GAA programme. We rolled that out across the country, a number of really good programmes under the Super Games umbrella. Connacht, in particular, had a Friday Night Lights programme and I would have helped them get that going. I also would have been the deputy event controller for the GAA World Games in UCD in 2016 and the same for the World Games in WIT in 2019. Again, I suppose my stadium operations life would have played out there in terms of major sports event management. Logistics, organisation, planning, and just having everything really well organised in order to hit massive delivery targets.

As well as that I became secretary for the GAA Standing Committee on the Playing Rules. That was very much focused on monitoring the implementation of playing rules, the application of playing rules, working with the committee and the chairperson, David Hassan, to analyse the playing rules at senior and inter-county level. We have done a lot of analysis of the national football and hurling leagues, the senior football and hurling championships, provincial pre-season competitions and have been able to identify trends around where things were happening with playing rules that we probably needed to look at in terms of making amendments or introducing new rules as well. I'm still secretary of that committee nearly six years later.

Then, back in 2021 I became the Coaching and Games Development Operations Manager. At the moment my remit is very much around operations nationally of coaching and games development. Planning with counties for the programmes they're going to deliver throughout the course of the year. Looking at monitoring and reporting as well, so the impact that we're making on the ground and the reach that we have with different programmes. The participation numbers coming through those programmes. I look after the funding end of things as well which involves the new funding framework that's about to be rolled out. It's looking at the funding going into counties and part of that is the planning with counties as well so they can target their investment.

Tracy Bunyan pictured with the GAA Coaching and Games Development team that organised the 2019 GAA World Games in Waterford. 
Tracy Bunyan pictured with the GAA Coaching and Games Development team that organised the 2019 GAA World Games in Waterford. There's a lot of moving parts there...

TB: It's huge, absolutely. No two days are the same. For me at this time of the year it's very much looking at the objectives of each pillar in our department and making sure that's lined up with Aontas, the GAA strategic plan, and the objectives that are related to coaching and games in that.

So you could be covering anything from coach development to participation programmes, to insights and evaluation of the operation itself. There are a lot of touch points with what I do with different members in the department and their particular area of responsibility as well. It's a very diverse role. At times you're really looking at detail around coaching and games development across the country. Especially the planning end of things, we've changed our whole planning and reporting systems. What was outputted last week is based off that new system so early in the first quarter of a year we're able to give definite numbers around who has participated in programmes, how many programmes have taken place, how many sessions, how many coaches have gone through our coach education. So it's very detailed in terms of picking up that type of information.

And of course all of that comes from the ground, from our coaching and games staff who are out there at the coalface delivering all of this as well. We'd have a very extensive planning, monitoring, and evaluation framework that all the counties would work towards with us here in the national office. Especially at club-level we've seen a groundswell of more and more women getting involved in GAA coaching and administration. Is there anything you would say to get even more women involved? Do you think perhaps women don't naturally picture themselves in these roles sometimes? Or is that changing and what can be done to further accelerate that change?

TB: For me, it is changing. I'm very lucky with our U-9s, we have five female coaches. We have a coaching group of about 13 or 14 coaches so that's very positive. Especially on the male end of things that you have that number of female coaches, all of whom are moms who are willing to put their hands up. Some of them have never played GAA before but they're more than willing to get involved.

The big things with Gaelic games is that there's always a job to be done. It might not necessarily be coaching and delivery of sessions, everything from the administrative side, the organisation side, the communications side as well is particularly big for us. There's always a role that you will need somebody to fill. I'm talking as someone who is professionally employed in sport but who also is a volunteer. If people come up to you and say, yeah, I'm interested in being involved, we'll find a role for them.

On the coaching end of things, because of that evolution of women in sport, you do have a lot of females now who have played camogie and ladies football within their clubs so there is a wider spread of females who have coaching experience because of their previous playing experience.

I think in the underage end of things you're seeing a lot more moms wanting to be involved win their sports and teams either as coaches or administrators. I can only talk for myself, but wherever my kids go I go. And if you're standing around on a Saturday morning or Monday evening, why not give a hand out? I view it as a really important thing to be involved in with my children. For me it's very important to normalise females coaching and to foster that respect towards females who coach.

But also you're part of their community and you're giving back to your own community as well.

So, to me, that's a really important piece of this. Especially for females, don't be afraid to put yourself forward. If you have something to offer, by all means put up your hand. All clubs are crying out for volunteers. You'll never be turned away. We'd take the hand off anybody who wants to offer their time and help. There is also a great support network from females who are already coaching or involved in teams/clubs, so it is important for any new female coaches/administrators to utilise this support

What I've found in the GAA is that the clubs are becoming a lot more inclusive. Which is a really good thing and a really powerful thing. You look at committee level in St Vincent’s GAA club and we have a female chairperson. At committee level there are more and more females operating to a really high level. In coaching there's more and more females operating to a really high level as well. I think for the diversity of the organisation that's really important.

I think there is, especially at underage level now, more parents wanting to be involved and moms wanting to be involved with their children’s clubs and teams and I see that with my son's and daughter's groups. There's a huge amount of moms willing to give up their time to be involved. Is it a bit of a snowball effect that will just keep getting bigger and bigger?

TB: Definitely. Sometimes it just takes one person to make that step forward and then everyone else behind will follow. That goes back to the role-modelling piece. I think if there are women who are willing to put themselves in a position coaching then others will follow and say, 'I can do that too', or, 'I don't need to be fearful about getting involved because I have something to offer'. So it is a snowball effect and it probably gives confidence as well to those who are a bit on the fence and not sure.

Maybe because of how I was brought up and grew up with both my parents really involved in sport, they were just massive role-models for me in my life and still are. Whatever they did I wanted to emulate as well. For people who don't have that role-modelling it is important that there are females there who they can look towards and say, 'yeah, Tracy is involved as a coach, I'm going to get involved as well'.

I guess for a lot of females it is about breaking that glass ceiling as well. You can go out and coach and be accepted and included as part of a coaching group and that's really, really important. I think with our coaching group there's no distinction between genders really. We're all coaches and everybody brings something different to the table which is very important when it comes to diversity.

Some of the GAA's Coaching and Games Development team's achievements in 2022. 
Some of the GAA's Coaching and Games Development team's achievements in 2022. It's an exciting time for the Gaelic games family with the prospect of the GAA, LGFA, and Camogie Association moving towards integration over the course of the next couple of years. The Coaching and Games Development Department is already there in a lot of respects. How positive an impact do you think integration would have on both female and male sport in the Gaelic games family going forward?

TB: You're right, we've probably led the way in terms of combining our offering with Ladies Football, the Camogie Association, ourselves, everything is being done across the three organisations in unison. We have a Gaelic games pathway and that is for all codes and the three Associations. That's a real positive. And so is that there's no segregation seen between male and female coaches, male and female players. Our staff go out and coach males and females in schools and clubs. The people who come on our coaching courses are males and females.

The integration piece is going to be massive and there can only be positives and benefits to the three associations operating as one. If you look at the One Club model which a lot of clubs are operating under, that is a really good and powerful model. I think to move away from distinguishing between male and female coaches, male and female players, three separate associations, it is about moving with the times as well in terms of being a sporting organisation.

We talk about values which are based on community, and our community needs to reflect what is happening out there on the ground. You talk about inclusivity and you talk about respect, there are so many of our values that can be underpinned in the integration process as well. I think for us going forward, this is going to be a game-changer. It will be a really, really positive thing for the Association.

Definitely in Coaching and Games we're probably a little bit ahead of the posse in so far as we're operating across the three associations and collaborating together and our programmes are really successful because we're operating across both males and females as well. So you're breaking down those barriers from the off in terms of your audience and your participants and that's a really positive thing.

Look, hopefully we can build on that with that integration piece as well.