Thursday 29 June 2017

'Shamateurism' dominates headlines butit's volunteer spirit that keeps the flame burning

Not everyone wants to be paid for giving their free time to a club or county, writes Damian Lawlor

DESPITE facing serious debt and daunting bank arrears, many clubs persist with the policy of appointing outside managers to their principal teams.

There's a lot to be said for the 'outside man'. Many clubs are riddled with internal politics and endure the same old faces failing to deliver that elusive silverware. Often it takes a fresh voice, one with no prejudices, to bring a parish, suburb or town together again.

In this regard outside managers can be a breath of fresh air, blessed as they almost always are with new methods, experience and a contemporary physical trainer. From the captain to the chairman, everyone is energised and they want to get cracking as early as possible.

There's most likely a minimum of three training sessions a week to negotiate which means that the club has to fork out at least €100 per session and more likely €130 if the trainer is to get a touch too. That's about €1,500 per month.

Bet your bottom dollar that the outside manager will commence training in January and these days, with the hectic intercounty schedule, most teams will still be in action come July or August as local championships suffer delays. This means the club will have to find about €10,500 for their management before they even reach a county quarter-final.

Add on at least another €2,000 if they progress to the latter stages of the championship and maybe a bonus if they reach the play-off phases or deliver silverware.

You're talking about spending in the region of €15,000, and that's a low estimate. During the Celtic Tiger years you could add on another €10,000 and maybe in certain cases you still can.

Last week was dominated by such tales and the reputations of some managers, along with clubs and counties who openly embrace this 'shamateurism' ethos, have come under scrutiny.

The doomsday scenario is that the end is nigh for the volunteer aspect of the Association. The reality, however, is that there are still plenty of people willing to give their time freely to the cause.

John Kiely gave the bones of 10 years managing the Waterford juniors, impressively delivering two All-Ireland titles in the process. At the end of 1999, after winning his first title, he was handed a brown envelope. Intrigued, he opened it in front of everyone. It contained £100. "A tenner for every year," he laughed, before using the money to buy everyone on the panel a celebratory drink. He then spent five years with the senior team running up a phone bill that would make your eyes water, but it never occurred to him to submit an invoice to the Waterford board. He's with the minors now, building another foundation.

There are thousands of people like Kiely all over the country; it's important to remember that. There is still much goodwill too; last year one Kilkenny hurler attended an event for a club in a rival county and was handed €500 in an envelope. That envelope was returned the next day.

Equally, there are plenty of clubs and counties which never look outside when it comes to appointing a manager. The famed Glen Rovers club in Cork is one. In their 96-year existence they have never looked outside their walls but have enjoyed two All-Ireland, three Munster and 25 Cork senior hurling titles.

The club has combined loans in the region of €650,000 and the bank is repaid €4,300 a month. One of their most famous sons, former manager Tomás Mulcahy, jokes that the bank manager would go into cardiac arrest if they even thought about an outside man.

"We wouldn't even contemplate it really," he says. "I have no issue with an outside man being paid expenses to look after another team but we've been lucky to have enough capable former players to look after the senior team. Past hurlers like Ian Lynam, Tony Wall, Johnny Clifford, Red Crowley, Teddy O'Brien and Denis Coughlan have all stepped up over the past couple of decades.

"We've no intention of preaching; it's up to every club to decide for themselves but with our tradition and past success we've always gone in-house because we've had men used to winning big games. The general trend is that when they finish playing they become a club officer or get involved with coaching. There's nearly always a natural progression.

"We haven't won a county title since 1989 and that's a long time. In that period, the possibility of looking for an outside candidate came up and was discussed. But we always had someone from inside looking to step up."

Six years ago, the club launched a major redevelopment: an indoor hurling alley, gym, new dressing rooms, dedicated referees' room, hurling wall, new pitch and floodlights. As the economy imploded, they knew they'd bitten off more than they could chew and were left with three sizeable loans totalling almost €1m. They sold three sites for €100,000 each, reducing the liability to €700,000, but it didn't prevent their financial health from suffering.

They simply couldn't justify an extra €20,000 for an outside coach at a time when they were threatened with their very existence. It sounds far-fetched to even imagine they would, but plenty of other clubs in similar situations persist with external voices.

"Our policy is that we don't pay anyone," states the club's vice chairman (finance) Diarmuid McAuliffe. "It's always been that way. We'd have no objection to an outsider taking the job at all but they wouldn't be paid for it."

"We don't have a sponsor either," Mulcahy adds. "It's just the way we are. Our pedigree is massive to us; we've never even put a sponsor's logo across that Glen jersey. It was always green and black until 1916 and then with the events of that year there was a black stripe put across it. There is huge pride attached and even with financial challenges we never sought a sponsor. If we were to use one, I imagine it would require an EGM to be held.

"We've used outside physical trainers with expertise in the past few years to help our managers but there's no way we could pay for a manager and trainer for a team that would be training a minimum of three times a week from January until (hopefully) September.

"The bottom line is we have people willing to put something back in. It would mostly be the same with Blackrock, the 'Barrs and Sarsfields too, but there are clubs out there who maybe don't have such expertise on their doorsteps. And with urban development and former players moving to different areas and different counties, it has been difficult for clubs to retain their best people so maybe they have no choice but to look outside."

Incidentally, Mulcahy feels the role of a club manager is every bit as time-consuming as an inter-county gig.

"Especially if it's your own club -- there's massive pressure, you're consumed with it every day and you have to keep overheads low as well. Then if you're an outsider getting a few bob, which they're entitled to with the travelling, there's the getting to know new players and the installation of new structures. An outside man is also aware that his backroom team is most likely not getting paid. It's always there in the back of people's minds.

"People on the ground are now looking to the top for answers. They're wondering if we even need a full-time president. We already have a director-general running the show. By all means have a voluntary president acting as a figurehead but seeing so many full-time administrators being paid is filtering down the ladder and annoying those at the bottom. You could tell that reading all the reports of last week."

"Overall, I just wonder why the report took so long to come out. The baton is now going to land on Liam O'Neill's desk and he won't have an easy start to his presidency."

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