Eugene McGee: Value for money central to new royal appointment
The ongoing saga involving the appointment of a new manager for the Meath football team is seen by many GAA people as merely an amusing diversion in these troubled times, something to give us all a break from the bond-holders, the IMF, Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry.
As always, there are the usual snide and biased comments like 'What else would you expect from Meath?'. But this is to overlook the significance of what is going on in Meath GAA circles, and far from the problem being specific to Meath, the reality is that in hundreds of GAA units, club and county, similar problems surface regularly.
What is happening in Meath is critical in relation to the GAA approach to appointing team managers. There are several important principles involved such as:
- Who actually appoints the manager? Is it the county executive, county chairman or club delegates at a county board meeting? Or in some cases do non-officers with more money than sense (remember those types?) play a part by boosting a high-profile manager's 'expenses'?
- Whether the manager should be a native of the particular county or an 'outsider'.
- A new development has emerged regarding the appointment of a manager -- his back-room team. These are the hand-picked people the manager feels he needs to help him do the job, and could be any number from one to 10. They are often far from being in the back room, but are frontline people alongside, or even more important than, the manager.
- Should players not have an input into managerial appointments (without actually picking the candidate)? How many county boards formally involve players, even in an advisory role?
- And, finally, we have the most interesting question in many counties: the payment of team managers. It is the biggest hot potato facing the GAA and chief executive Paraic Duffy is shortly to publish a 'white paper' on how the GAA should deal with the issue.
All of these topics are part of the mix in most county team appointments and Meath is no different. After all it was the fragmentation of power between the executive and club county board delegates which ended up shafting Eamonn O'Brien, despite him winning a Leinster title and reaching an All- Ireland semi-final in his two-year term.
The most critical point for Meath is where the manager should be from, because they are one of the few counties NEVER to have appointed an outside manager.
This is a matter of life and death for many Meath GAA people, who would regard it as a betrayal of everything Meath football has achieved over the years should they not appoint a person from within the county.
Many counties have used outside managers, and I was proud to be one myself in the past, but the Meath football ethic is seen as special and has stood the county well for over 100 years.
To be seen as not capable of appointing a Meath man in charge of the senior team is repulsive to many Meath people. All counties have their own special tradition as to how they play football but this applies more than most to Meath.
Many Meath people feel that only a native can understand the county's football psyche and exploit it to the maximum.
Dublin and Kerry in football and Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork in hurling have the same beliefs in their traditions.
But times change and many in the county feel that a new approach is needed if Meath are to compete with the leading counties and perhaps some innovative thinking is required to change old ways in Meath.
Lots of counties have the same problem and most have opted for the outsider, but it must be said with limited success -- outsiders have only won three All-Irelands in the past 40 years in football.
The arrival of large back-room teams along with the manager is causing unease in many counties, and not just for financial reasons. Accepting one outsider may be seen as reasonable, but having several can cause unrest.
County teams depend above all on county loyalty, even local tribalism, and having several non-natives running your county is hard for many fans to stomach. One of Meath's managerial packages includes at least three outsiders from three different counties -- all very talented people it is generally agreed, but still outsiders.
The non-involvement of county players in managerial appointments is plain silly in my opinion. They should certainly be able to give their views on candidates, particularly in relation to the use of outsiders. From media coverage of the Meath affair, I have seen no comment from any current player. Strange indeed. The few former players who have commented seem to favour the Seamus McEnaney package and maybe they are indirectly speaking for today's players.
Payment to managers and back-room teams outside the normal GAA expenses is a major issue for most county boards, who cannot afford it in these torrid times. I have no knowledge of what is happening in Meath so I cannot comment. Anyway, secrecy is the cornerstone of these financial arrangements.
There is no doubt that McEnaney, after six years with his native Monaghan, sought out the Meath appointment, as he was perfectly entitled to do, and former Royal great Liam Harnan became part of the package.
Whether this long, drawn-out county board saga has irretrievably damaged the eventual management team, either McEnaney's or that of the other candidate Gerry Cooney, is the question that will worry most Meath GAA people this week as they wait for the fateful county board decision on Wednesday.
- It has been reported recently that just six counties have never used outside managers in football: Kerry, Dublin, Meath, Cork, Tyrone and Down.
Well, Tyrone were managed by Newry man Gerry Brown when they won their first Ulster championships in 1956 and '57 and Kildare man Larry Tompkins managed Cork. Tommy Lyons is a native of Mayo and managed Dublin. So it looks as if just three counties -- Kerry, Meath and Down -- are the only real 100pc 'insiders'.