Niamh McCoy, Director of the GAA Museum at Croke Park on history, variety and taking chances
Women are making their mark in the world of business like never before. In every industry and at every level, we look to women who’ve made it their own as an example for us to do the same. For our series ‘Love Your Work‘, we ask women who have achieved stunning success in their career to tell us how they got there, and their advice on how we can join them.
Combining your passion in life with work is the dream for any of us. When Niamh McCoy was able to excel in a career as a staunch GAA supporter, she knew she’d found a job that was special. Now, in the GAA Museum’s 20th anniversary at Croke Park, Niamh works as their Director, managing everything from tourism, to sales, to events and more. In this week’s Love Your Work, we chatted about unplanned career paths, working on a broad remit and the importance of being able to adapt.
What was your favourite subject in school?
History was always my favourite subject at school. I’m lucky to now be working in an area that really interests me and is all about history from the 1880s, when the GAA was founded, to present day history that is made on the GAA pitch every weekend.
I studied history through to Leaving Cert and loved both the Irish and European content. For my Leaving Cert history project topic, I researched the subject of Grigori Rasputin and his influence over the Tsarina during the last days of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. I love interesting and unusual historical stories and characters and it really helps to study when you have a love for your subject.
I still like to keep up my interest in history outside of work and for the past four years, I have returned to Trinity College, where I studied at undergraduate level to take an Extramural course on Monday evenings. My Dad joins me for the classes, so it’s a lovely night out.
Irish was another favourite of mine. This was largely down to a brilliant teacher who made her Irish classes fun. She taught the subject in a practical way which made it much easier for us all. I also enjoyed Art class and still have a keen interest in art history.
What was your first job, and what other jobs have you had since?
Like everybody else, I held numerous summer jobs and worked abroad as a student. I spent time in the Black Forest in Germany, which is still one of my favourite places in the world, and I worked in London for a time.
On the professional front, my first ‘real’ job was with Golden Pages Ltd, where I worked as a Marketing Executive. This is an experience that has really helped me throughout my career and everybody could benefit from working for a sales company. We are all always ‘selling’ something in our working lives, be it a physical object or an idea.
The opportunity to work in Croke Park selling corporate tickets came up and my career path changed. As a huge GAA (particularly Meath football) fan, this was the ideal role for me and an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, so my career path changed. I worked in the corporate ticket area during the recession, which was very challenging. The focus was on adding value to the product and placing huge value on customer service. During this time, I learnt how important resilience is in the workplace.
The move to the position of Director of the GAA Museum came about at a great time for me, as I had just finished a Masters in Management. The role has a broad remit and the museum is open to the public daily, which presented me with a whole new set of challenges I had never encountered before, such as Health and Safety and rapid response.
What does your daily routine look like?
Workwise, my routine can vary widely from day to day. My role has a broad remit so there’s always some surprises! My responsibilities include working with our curator on the permanent and temporary exhibition, as well as overseeing the day to day running of our tours and events. We also have a museum gift shop so there’s a focus on the retail and commercial side and I also spend time working with the Croke Park management team on broader stadium projects.
Some weeks, I could be designing new gift shop products, attending an event honouring GAA stars of the past, exploring our archives to answer a historian’s query, recruiting new tour guides, working with our marketing team or reporting to our board of directors. It’s a real mixed bag but that’s what makes each day exciting!
On the personal side, it’s also quite varied but I always walk my two dogs twice a day!
What’s your favourite part of the job?
It’s a varied role, but I really enjoy the opportunity for creativity. I mean this in both the obvious way of working on visual aspects, including the overall look and feel of the museum and our branding, but also being creative with our products, events and tours. I feel it’s also creative to figure out how to achieve business goals in a cost-effective manner.
What’s your least favourite part?
The seasonal nature of the business can be tough. When the tourist season is over, we work very hard to make sure our product stays relevant and continually have to come up with ways to make both tourists and Irish visitors want to trek to Croke Park on a cold Monday afternoon in January!
Fáilte Ireland have been very supportive in helping us capture the imagination of visitors in the ‘shoulder season’ and we also work with other visitor attractions across Dublin to make all of our offerings are the best they can be.
What are the key skills you need to make it in your industry?
For me, the biggest skill needed is the ability to adapt. Like I’ve said, the role her is so varied, so it’s important that I can switch focus from one project to the next rapidly.
It’s also vital to be aware of trends in the tourism market, so networking and visiting other museums, galleries and tourist sites is key. I’m constantly learning from others and there are always new and exciting venues and attractions opening, so the museum is always a work in progress as the tourism landscape changes.
Equally, communication is key. We have a small team and so many events and projects are happening at the same time, so everybody needs to know what everyone else is doing. Communication is necessary to coordinate all of this.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned for success in your career?
I have a genuine belief that hard work pays off. I have seen first-hand that, for people who work hard, the results do come. It may take some time but making the effort does pay off, so stay focused.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is to really listen to other people. All of your colleagues have something to offer and have a different experience of the business than you, which is extremely useful.
At heart, I’m a real GAA fan so working here is my ideal job in many ways. I have certainly made some mistakes along the way but that’s how I’ve learned and grown in my career. So I can safely say I’ve no regrets.
What do you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
Probably that the most thought-out plans never really come to fruition and what you foresee for your career is more than likely not going to happen. But that can be a good thing and you can end up in a better place than you ever expected.
What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to young people starting out who want to follow in your footsteps?
Take every opportunity that comes your way and work hard. Make the most of your chances while you can.