Saturday 16 April 2005 – a defining date in the history of Irish sport as a motion was passed on Rule 42, which paved the way for soccer and rugby to be played in Croke Park. It was at that year's GAA congress in Croke Park that delegates voted for change, yet the then GAA President Seán Kelly, positioned at the top table, had a few anxious moments before the votes fell the way he wanted.

The first Kerryman to hold the position of President had been a strong advocate to open the doors and allow the 'foreign' games strut their stuff on the hallowed ground at Jones' Road.

In his book, Kelly clearly outlines the high risk strategy he embarked upon. His powers of persuasion were tested and, while he had many allies to bat for him, there were equally those who held an opposing view, and even questioned his position as president. Among the latter were a number of ex presidents, and on the day of the vote the late Con Murphy certainly got his chance to convey his views.

Of the present day officials, Micháel Greenan of the Ulster Council has remained a staunch critic of Kelly over the Rule 42 issue and regularly tried to undermine the former president when addressing public functions.

On occasions Kelly, along with members of his family, were present to hear such swipes and, while it created uncomfortable situations, Seán Kelly accepts that maybe this was the price to pay. As he said himself: "the higher up you go within the GAA - the less resistant members are to change". And, with solicitors called in to make sure that all motions proposed were 'in order', meetings with the ex-presidents and the balloting of opinions of all GAA members, the road to ensure that Rule 42 took a different path was far from a smooth journey.

It was a road that Kelly felt the GAA had to travel, if anything to show off Croke Park as a world class stadium, as well as helping your sporting brethren in their hour of need. Sean Kelly's time as president will be forever associated with Rule 42, and the closer relationship that now exists between the GAA and the FAI and IRFU.

In his own words, he knew he had the support of the general public for the stance he pushed, while, at the same time, being acutely aware that some 'gaels' saw him as a judas figure.

In the book he makes reference to the former Kerry footballer JJ Barrett, who withdrew his father's All Ireland medals from the GAA museum in Croke Park as a statement of his opposition to the playing of 'God Save The Queen' at the famous stadium. Kelly is at pains to point out that he respects the views of all, but there is no doubt that he is quite bullish and determined himself and, from reading his memoir, you are left in no doubt that he is an able politician.

Seán Kelly was born in the townland of Knockataggle in the parish of Kilcummin. He paints a very idyllic picture of his birthplace and the farming way of life. His family was steeped in the GAA tradition and, while Kelly never played inter-county football, he was nevertheless an eager participant during his schooldays in St Brendan's in Killarney and later with St Pat's and UCD in Dublin. He also played club football in the capital with Parnells.

After getting a full time teaching position in St Brendan's in Killarney in 1975, Kelly embarked on the route that would eventually lead to him being elected GAA President in 2002. At the first time of asking he was elected to every position he stood for at county, provincial and national level.

During his tenure as Kerry county board chairman, they were heaves to overcome (the county team had fallen into decline after the Mick O'Dwyer era) and these are outlined in the book. Yet, Kelly managed to survive, and while he does not dwell too much on how he managed to hang on, you are left in no doubt of his ability to mobilise people and his way with words.

What also emerges from the book is the often complex hierarchical structure of the GAA. Kelly, as president, sought to make the organisation less fragmented in the way it does business, particularly in relation to disciplinary matters. Also during his office, he addressed the need to have competitions for the so called 'weaker counties'.

He details how the Tommy Murphy, Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard Cups came into being, while also pushing through Croke Park as the venue for the All Ireland Junior & Intermediate Club Finals.

Indeed the championing of the underdog was also the case for Kelly when, as Vice Chairman of the Kerry county board, he was entrusted with the responsibility of reviving the flagging fortunes of hurling within the county. No easy task, as Kerry were winning football titles for fun at the time.

Yet, Kelly approached the position with much gusto and sought out hurling experts from outside the county to spread the gospel of the ancient game within the Kingdom. Progress was slow but Kelly does reference one of the bigger upsets in recent times in the hurling championship as unfancied Kerry beat Waterford in the 1992 Munster championship.

The author points to controversial incidents during his time as a GAA president, notably the Colin Lynch affair in 1998, violence in the International Rule series, and the often difficult relationship between the GAA and the GPA.

There is much to like in Sean Kelly's recollections and, if you can forgive him for his somewhat old fashioned style of expression, then this account stands up as a permanent record of how the GAA finally moved with the times, a move that is now completely irreversible. 

James McMahon