Blake, Richard Thomas (1868–1937), secretary of the GAA and journalist, was born 15 January 1868 at Ladyrath, Rathkenny, Navan, Co. Meath, eldest son of seven sons and one daughter of Philip Blake (d. 1906), large farmer, and Eliza Martha Blake (née Cogan). His interest in and prowess at athletics, especially cricket, developed during his education at St Vincent's College, Castleknock (1883–8). He attended the first convention of the Meath GAA county board (April 1894) as a representative of the Navan cycling and athletic club and was elected chairman, immediately organising a football championship in the county.
He had already achieved national prominence within the association as a match official (refereeing both all-Ireland finals in 1894) and as an advocate of reform. He was a delegate at the 1894 convention, during which the ban on police participation was lifted. His consistent campaigning resulted in his election as general secretary in the following year, a position he held till his removal in controversial circumstances in 1898. On appointment, he quickly set about a thorough reorganisation of the GAA. The Parnell split in 1891 had created almost fatal divisions within the organisation, leading him to argue that it should be a non-political sporting body. He was firmly against what he regarded as the detrimental degree of influence exerted by the IRB within the association, which incurred the enmity of the IRB and encouraged allegations that he was less than wholeheartedly Irish. This was a factor in his removal as chairman of the Meath board (1895). Nevertheless he succeeded in having discussion of politics prohibited within the organisation, and in 1896 the ban on foreign games was removed at his instigation. He also insisted that the association should not officially participate in the centennial celebrations of 1798. Significantly, at this time Archbishop Croke (qv) felt able to become publicly associated with the GAA once more. However, Blake's open agnosticism incurred the disapproval of many clergy.
His reforming zeal extended to codifying Gaelic football, giving the game the shape it has largely maintained to the present. He also brought the All-Ireland finals to Jones's Rd, Dublin (Croke Park), where they have been staged ever since. His energy salvaged the GAA at a time when it faced extinction; during his tenure the number of hurling and football clubs affiliated to the association grew from 114 to 358, while income mushroomed from £285 to £1,200. In addition he promoted the status of athletics within the organisation in the belief that this would encourage clubs to affiliate, and initiated an agreement on the standardisation of records with the rival IAAA. As a consequence ninety-one athletics clubs paid subscriptions to the association in 1898, in contrast to sixteen in 1895.
This record of success was not enough to save Blake's job when he came under attack from a republican faction led by Frank B. Dineen (qv) at a special conference in 1898. A vote of doubtful legality resulted in his removal – ostensibly on the grounds of financial mismanagement, but in reality the motivations were political. Blake's rather strident manner and his impolitic decision to remain a referee meant that he had few allies. He defended his reputation, positing personal ambition as a factor in his dismissal in How F. B. Dineen grabbed the G.A.A. (1900). He attempted to regain the position of secretary in 1901 but his candidacy was ruled out of order as the Meath board was no longer affiliated. Although he reestablished the Meath county board in 1902, becoming chairman for a second time, he stood down the following year.
His association with the GAA over, he concentrated on journalism. In 1897 he had edited and published the Gaelic News but now he worked freelance, covering cricket, athletics, soccer, and rugby for the Weekly Independent, Sunday Independent, Evening Mail, and Irish Times. It appears that by the time of his death (3 September 1937) at 123 Tritonville Rd, Sandymount, Dublin, he was barely eking out a living and sometimes relying on the charity of former editors. His funeral was well attended by journalists and figures from sports such as rugby, but his passing was barely acknowledged by the GAA.