THE drive to crack down on illegal payments to team managers will be a major test of the GAA's resolve to rid the Association of a hypocrisy which has prevailed for decades, according to director general Paraic Duffy.
Strict regulations which demand that team managements and senior county board officials must give written details of the deals entered into and a solemn commitment that no under-the-counter payments are being made come into effect on January 1.
The new register-of-expenses system applies to counties only for the present but will later be extended to clubs, where it's believed irregular payments are even more common.
The latest initiative, designed to protect amateurism in the GAA, comes after serious soul-searching within the Association and, according to Duffy, must be implemented in full if there's not to be a serious loss of credibility.
However, despite the register-of-expenses receiving virtually unanimous backing from all counties, Duffy suspects that some will flout it, in which case action will have to be taken.
"The sanctions are clear for breaking the amateur status rule – 24 weeks' suspension. We either have rules that we apply or we don't," he said.
"That's one of the things I dislike about how we operate at times. We all sign up to rules but don't always apply them. It happened with the closed season (no training allowed in November-December) and also with the amount of time county players were free of club activity during the summer months.
"I have a problem with passing motions at Congress and then when the rules are seen to be difficult, we turn a blind eye. Rules reflect your values: you can't have them in the book and ignore them. If you do, you lose credibility and rightly so."
Duffy has driven the payments-to-managers issue over the last few years but insists that it's not a personal mission, rather an attempt to apply the rules as decided by the Association.
"This is no crusade on my part. If the majority of the Association wanted to pay managers, that's fine," he stressed. "I have no strong opinion over payments to managers, but what we can't have is a rule that was being ignored. What does that say about us as an organisation?"
Under the new arrangement, every member of a team management is required to sign a document, outlining the payments/expenses they are receiving.
It must be counter-signed by the chairman, secretary, treasurer and Central Council delegate from every county board and lodged with Croke Park before December 31 next.
Spot checks will be carried out in six or seven counties next year – auditors will forensically examine the accounts. Duffy believes that the new arrangement will have a positive impact.
"This is what the counties opted for when we asked them what they wanted. The new register system will make people more accountable as management personnel and four senior county board officers have to sign off on it," he said.
"The county boards will be giving a written commitment that no other payments are being made, other than what's in the register. I don't believe that very many will put their name to a document that they know to be wrong.
"But can I give a cast-iron guarantee that everybody will comply? The answer is 'no'. There's still a strong likelihood some counties will engage in practices beyond what they state in the register.
"Nobody can say the new arrangement will solve the problem, but at least this is a serious attempt by the Association to implement the rule on amateurism which the vast majority still want."
Despite the latest attempt to curb illegal payments, Duffy accepts that there's still a risk that outside individuals or groups could pay a manager without the knowledge of the county board. However, since managers have to sign a document stating that they are receiving no more than what's on the register, Duffy believes they will be far more wary than before.
"There's no doubt that it's a weakness in the system that outsiders can still pay managers, but there's very little we can do about that. How do you pin that down? What we're trying to do is apply our own rules as strictly as we can, something which hasn't always happened in the past," he said.
The crackdown on illegal payments has been on the agenda since early 2010 when Duffy wrote in his annual report that it was a major problem which needed to be tackled. He was tasked with preparing a report on the situation which he completed in late 2010 but, for reasons which have never been explained, wasn't published until last January.
It outlined a number of options which Central Council eventually narrowed down to the one which is now about to be implemented.
"All the counties have been issued with their registers, which must be completed by December 31. We've asked every county for a comprehensive breakdown on the management personnel and what they will be paid.
"We're starting with counties but the plan is to extend it clubs later. We're not saying the new arrangement will wipe out all illegal payments but it should go a long way to cleaning up a messy situation," said Duffy.
And if managers and/or county board officials are found to have broken the rule on amateurism, Duffy has no doubt what the punishment should be. "The rule is clear – 24 weeks' suspension," he said.