January is not yet over and already we have had a good old-fashioned melee, the long-awaited document on payments to managers and a spat between two managers, Jimmy McGuinness of Donegal and Niall Moyna of DCU. It is shaping up to be quite a year.
Despite the usual outcry about the incident in Portlaoise, there was nothing in the pictures shown which would indicate why such a civil war should break out between Kerry and Tyrone, apart from old wounds maybe.
You need to have been at the match to know what the atmosphere was like and where much of the wrong lies. There are much more sinister acts on a football pitch than giving a fellow a dig and much of this is not captured on camera.
What is very clear from the pictures I saw is that most of the trouble was caused by people who were not playing getting involved. This is an area where the GAA needs to tidy up its act most of all. There should be a special suspension for a sub who enters the field of play to get involved in a row and I believe it should be a minimum of six months. That would soften their cough. The same should apply to mentors.
In this instance identifying culprits is very easy so this whole affair should be tidied up very quickly and it should send out a message for the year ahead.
Páraic Duffy, meanwhile, has attempted to set out a plan to slay the multi-headed dragon of payments to managers. I am a bit doubtful if any of the strategies will work as a couple of new heads might just shoot up where one is cut off.
Before any attempt is made to do something with this issue, the most pressing one for the GAA to sort out is why units at all levels of the organisation either simply ignore agreed policy or in many cases do exactly the opposite. The chances are that even if the public debate that is supposed to be sparked by the publication of this document comes to a conclusion, it won't be worth the paper it is written on as clubs and counties will go their own merry way.
The GAA now resembles Fianna Fáil at the last election with everybody doing their own thing, some clubs and counties planning for success, others merely looking to survive. For many clubs getting a team out for the start of the league and having money to pay affiliations are the only things they are worried about.
Perhaps I live in a fool's paradise but I don't think payments to managers at inter-county level is a big issue at all and if an agreed sum was given by county boards there is nothing to stop extra money being given under the table anyway. The big argument here is that an outside manager can create a better environment and the example of Mick O'Dwyer in Wicklow bears that out. He certainly created a greater awareness and interest than any insider would have done and some of these benefits can be built on now.
There is also the argument, at county level especially, that a greater pool of talent is opened up when the manager is given more liberal expenses at the very least. That is a very valid argument as there are lots of people who are of officer class but cannot afford to be involved in team management at county level, which does demand an extraordinary amount of time. Having assets that are not used is a long-term cost to the GAA. And it is arguable that the county team manager is worth far more to the promotion of football in a county than full-time officials or coaches who are paid employees.
However, at club level there are bigger issues altogether. I had thought the recession would sort out this payments thing as most clubs are either broke or badly bent, and there is a case to be made that anything that goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults, in this case the club executive and a manager, is their own business. Yet there is something entirely wrong to me in a club selling weekly lotto tickets in order to finance a manager. If members spoke through their pockets by not buying tickets, it would solve the problem quickly.
Now there is a distinction here too between some outsider who is getting a few quid for genuine expenses and the manager who is getting over €100 a night with an incentive to have as many sessions as possible. All other things being equal, which they rarely are in the GAA, a club is better off sticking with someone from inside who wants the job for the right reasons.
What would concern me more than any of these things though is the effect that a slide to unpaid professionalism is having on players. They are the pawns and the biggest problem for them at the moment is serving several masters. This is especially so for third-level students, who find themselves dragged all over the place at this time of year. At present most are nearing the end of exams and in some cases are expected to go to county training sessions when they should be studying. If county managers really wanted to put the players before themselves or any other consideration, they would tell their own to play with their colleges at this time of year and, more importantly, get their exams. There is life after football and qualifications not medals are the primary requisites for jobs.
With a very large percentage of young county players going to third level there is a need to tackle this problem. The players are victims here and often don't feel able to stand up for themselves. Many county managers in their short-sightedness would wish there was no third-level football at all -- and there is a need for regulation of the season -- but abandoning this grade of football for the great god of county teams is not the answer.
Eventually too there must be a debate on what is best for a player, the county team and the money that is generated and spent on all of the above. Every year I think there can be no more advances made but there is always something new, whether it is early-morning starts or more bulking up. The common denominator in all this is the player. If there is an increasing amount of time devoted to collective training then something else has to give. Players should be motivated enough to train like any other athlete on their own, obviously with monitoring, and group sessions should be less frequent and even then more about ball skills and team play.
Maybe less not more is the way forward.