Counties' books to be audited in payments crackdown
COUNTIES can expect to have their accounts checked next year to make sure that their deals with managers are in order under the GAA's much-publicised crackdown on illegal payments.
The get-tough policy arises from consideration of a document prepared by director general Paraic Duffy early this year, which presented a stark analysis of a scenario which has troubled the GAA leadership for a long time.
Counties eventually agreed to adhere to a tightly-monitored system where only legitimately-incurred expenses are to be paid to managers.
There are many who believe that under-the-counter payments will continue, but GAA president Liam O'Neill insists that strict regulations will make it much more difficult to flout the system.
"It took us a long time to get the report to the table and when we did, it was clear that it had to be acted on. The clear indication from the organisation was that they wanted to keep the rules (on amateurism)," O'Neill said.
"Our job was to give them the means by which they can do that. That doesn't guarantee they will all act on it but we're confident that there's a will out there to get this right."
The GAA are to ask a specialist company to check counties to ensure that they are in compliance with the regulations.
O'Neill accepts that some counties have difficulties getting managers for specific reasons related to perceived expenses issues. A manager from the strong hurling heartlands might, for instance, be much more interested in taking over Antrim than Carlow because he stood to gain more in expenses.
O'Neill believes that the changed economic climate is a big weapon in the fight against under-the-counter payments, both at county and club level.
He has also noticed a more prudent approach to overall spending, with many counties balancing their books quite carefully.
"A good few counties are actually in the black at the end of the year and that's a significant achievement from the way things were," he said.
"Counties are cutting back on expenses by doing better deals on bulk purchases and arrangements with hotels. It's a sensible way of doing business at any time but most of all now."
With financial matters demanding close scrutiny in most counties, O'Neill sees no merit in changing the competitions' schedule in order to maintain an inter-county presence during the latter stages of the year.
There have been complaints that the GAA concedes promotional ground to rugby and soccer after the All-Ireland finals, but the president does not favour returning to an autumn start for the Allianz Leagues.
"We can't go back on that one – it's not going to happen. Clubs are under enough pressure as it is without losing more space for their games. I'm not sure we've done enough to promote the club (provincial) games but it's an obviously an area we can work on," he said. O'Neill would also be wary of proposals to complete the All-Ireland club championships before Christmas, as has been mooted by Antrim. They got solid support in a Congress debate, although not the two-thirds majority required to force a change.
"The club finals are a huge draw on St Patrick's Day. I'd be very slow to change a brand that's working. It's going very well at present, so I wouldn't like to be the one that destroys that," he said.
He expects the Football Development Committee, chaired by Eugene McGee, to have their recommendations completed before Christmas but has given them no formal deadline, preferring to allow them take as much time as required to produce a comprehensive blueprint on the future direction of Gaelic football.
"It's the first time a body has done as big a self-evaluation of its sport and I think that's significant. A lot of people have had their views listened to and it will be a real in-depth document. After that, we'll have a full debate on the proposals. There won't be any attempt by us (Croke Park) to water down or change their recommendations in any way," O'Neill said.
Even if the report won't be ready until January, some recommendations could be in place for the 2013 championship, although it's likely to contain longer-term proposals which would require lengthy debate and possibly an experimental phase to ascertain how they would work in practice.