Elish Kelly, Senior Research Officer, ESRI, speaking during the launch of the ESRI Report into Playing Senior Intercounty Gaelic Games at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Roscommon researcher is appointed to GAA’s national Strategic Plan Steering Group

A former Roscommon and Padraig Pearses player has been appointed as a member of the GAA’s Strategic Plan 2021-2026 Steering Group.

Dr Elish Kelly, who works as a senior researcher for the ESRI, is among ten people who make up the group which is led by President Larry McCarthy and also includes names such as director general Tom Ryan and Kerry chairman Tim Murphy.

The first phase of the steering group’s plan is currently underway, which is seeking to establish the key issues facing the organisation while the opinions of members and the public will be sought at a later stage.

Elish says that one of the main goals of the GAA is to return to pre-pandemic levels of crowds at games.

“This strategy is being developed in an environment where there is still uncertainty, and the goal outside of any strategy for any organisation that has been impacted by the pandemic is to get back to where they were before the pandemic,” she said.

“In terms of the association, that’s about a full return to games and having a return to full capacity as much as is possible.

“Obviously we all have to wait and see what happens as the vaccine is rolled out and as the economy opens up again and bigger gatherings are trialled, we will have a better idea of what needs to happen.”

Dr Kelly also believes that returning to the same level of enjoyment within the game is a priority.

“At the minute, intercounty players are allowed to play, but it’s all very clinical. You’re not allowed to interact and have banter which is very much what the GAA is about.

“It’s an amateur sport, and while we all like to compete, it’s very much about enjoyment and the social aspect too.”

Elish started playing football for Pearses while she was a primary school student at St Ciaran’s National School in Moore, and she also played basketball, camogie and several other sports during her time at Convent of Mercy in Ballinsaloe.

She soon went on to study Business, Economics and Social Studies (BESS) in Trinity College, where she focussed on business and economics.

“Economics was always the area I had a preference for,” she said. “After I finished my undergraduate degree I continued to postgraduate studies with a PhD in Economics. I always had an interest in policy type research, and I applied for work as a labour economist with the ESRI and started working there in September 2006 and I’ve been there ever since.”

Elish also has a history with athletics (something which her father Michael John and brothers were also involved in) having competed for Ireland at the European cross-county championships in 2011.

“I played club and some intercounty football up until my early thirties, and running was part of our training particularly for intercounty. Through a friend in college I ended up joining Raheny Shamrocks Athletics Club in Dublin and was fortunate to make the Irish team. In 2013 injuries started to take hold, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to do much running since.”

As part of her work with the ESRI, Elish has predominantly completed market research, but has also worked around areas such as education, immigrants, the gender pay-gap and unemployment.

Elish also has a history of conducting sport research, which includes work with Sport Ireland, the IRFU, the Confederation of Golf Ireland and Swim Ireland.

“Around 2017 we were commissioned by the GAA to look at the time commitments of players.

“We were asked to identify the commitments being given by senior intercounty players to their sport and what impact that was having on their lives and club involvement. It was very much on a macro level with the impact on careers, sleep, time with family and friends all being included.

“A follow-on study was on more of a micro-level with a deeper look on the impact on professional careers. We looked at the use of supplements, decisions around education, impact on pay and the supports that players were receiving and what they themselves might like to change about intercounty sport if they had the ability to do that.”

While the steering group is in early stages, Elish hopes that eventually everybody’s views will be able to be heard.

“Obviously at this stage of the process we can’t engage with everyone, but we’ve taken samples of different individuals from different groups, ranging from club players to intercounty players at senior level. We’re also setting up a youth inside group, and they’ll be asked the same thing of identifying key areas of interest.

“The next stage then is to design a survey that is going to be administered to all clubs which the public will also be informed about, so that everyone has an opportunity to participate in this process. That will range from the U14 manager or mentor to the person who carries the water bottles to the person who lines the GAA pitch.

“We really would like everybody to get involved and share their views when that becomes available and we will certainly do our best in that regard,” she finished.