Saturday 27 August 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Penny-pinching on expenses will cost more than cash

Suggestions that people are making money out of the GAA are an insult, writes Colm O'Rourke

Published 04/03/2012 | 05:00

We live in strange and uncertain times. Many of the old certainties have collapsed but tax is ever-present and an increasing burden.

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Now the GAA has been dragged into the manure to a much greater extent than could ever have been envisaged. Apart from the scrutiny of referees, the net has widened to take in anybody getting a few quid for services rendered, like people working on stiles at games, expenses to officials, players, managers, stewards and a host of others who keep the games ticking over.

The first problem I have with this is that it immediately assumes that people are getting money for some or all of these jobs. This is far from the reality. I have written on several occasions about payments to managers and feel that the whole thing at county level is completely sensationalised. Only a few are getting anything out of it and it is an insult to the vast majority of people in all sections of the GAA who work for their community for no other reason than wanting to give something back. The Revenue Commissioners listing these people gives the impression of an army of workers who are on the take.

If all these new regulations are implemented in full, it will give rise to a whole new level of bureaucracy and the GAA at all levels will have to hire a small army of their own to process the new expenses forms. In most respects it is a completely self-defeating exercise.

The best example of that is with referees. Last week it appeared as if they were about to jump ship in Wexford and Longford on the basis that the hassle involved in the new regime would make the situation intolerable. Imagine the prospect of sitting down with the referee at the end of every match, having to lodge an official expense sheet and then he gets just over €13 as a flat fee.

I know referees can make a nice few quid over the summer if they are willing to do matches every night of the week, but the simple system of the referee getting paid after the game is still the best way. If they down tools there will be chaos. Referees are like mothers -- they're only missed when they're gone.

On the pitches, the state of chassis continues. The loss of home advantage is the new deterrent for counties whose players have become involved in melees. While this is better than fines, it is still not an answer. The only thing that works is the suspension of players and taking away home advantage from a team is patently unfair in that it immediately confers an advantage on other counties. Laois is the obvious example here. If Cork have to play their home game against Laois in Portlaoise, then Laois will have five home games.

That is unfair to other counties in the divisions who have had no disciplinary issues in their games but are unlucky not to be playing either Cork or Monaghan in the next round. When Kildare and Armagh realised an appeal against a fine would probably cost them a home gate, they decided to stomach the five grand fine.

It would never happen in the GAA, of course, that either of those counties would make an adjustment to their gate returns to compensate for those silly fines and still hold on to a home game as the balance of advantage lies heavily with teams on their own patch. It appears, too, that some of the counties are not happy to benefit from the misfortune of others. There but for the grace of God go I, they must be saying. Louth's Peter Fitzpatrick has already expressed unease at Louth getting their away match against Monaghan at home and has talked about a neutral venue as being fairer.

All of this is distracting attention from the matches. With the rugby re-arranged for today, it was fortunate that a lot of matches were fixed for last night as today's attendances will certainly be affected. A bit of quick or even slow thinking would have helped here; a switch from this afternoon to yesterday or a change of time today could benefit all.

Of course this would not suit those who feel the GAA should take on the world and forget about compromise, but being a small fish in a big sporting pond demands flexibility. Players in general would not complain if games were switched to Saturday. They could enjoy a night out, a lie-in today and a chance to put the feet up and watch other codes on TV.

And some day soon the GAA will put a League match on a Thursday or Friday between neighbouring counties and it will attract a huge crowd and somebody of great importance will ask "why did we not think of this earlier?"

Last Wednesday night, I was in Gracefield outside Portarlington for the Leinster under 21 game between Meath and Offaly. There was a very healthy crowd and a great atmosphere, even though it meant a good bit of travelling for the Meath supporters. The point is that midweek games are very attractive and should be tried at senior level.

Incidentally, the game in Gracefield was an example of efficiency by all involved in the Gracefield club and county board officials. And I can guarantee the Revenue Commissioners that they were not getting paid either. Has anyone who works at high levels in that organisation ever heard of pride in your own place?

The big games today in the top division are between Down and Kerry and Donegal and Cork. Because of the journeys involved these games should have been pencilled in for yesterday afternoon or under lights. It is a long way home this evening and I hope that all the players fill out their expense sheets properly and don't look for anything other than burning the tyres off their cars.

Hopefully, I can get back to writing about football matches again soon.

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