Saturday 29 April 2017

'It's much worse at club level and the GAA is closing its eyes to it'

Paraic Duffy won't find it easy to alter the 'compo culture' that rewards managers, says Damian Lawlor

T WO years ago, an up-and-coming coach met with county board officers to assess his suitability as a manager. During the interview, the coach was asked if the expenses figure he had suggested was enough to cover his time. His predecessor, it transpired, had cost an awful lot more and the board couldn't believe their luck.

Around the same time, in a different part of the country, a club manager receiving €100 per session came to the conclusion that his days were numbered in the position. Thinking he probably only had two weeks left before the rug would be pulled on his reign, he assembled his men on 12 of the next 14 days before leaving with a tidy sum.

But it's not always the coaches who are upping the ante. Before accepting a position, one man decided how much he wanted for his services and was about to reveal the figure to officials when they told him that he wouldn't be getting any more than €15,000. That was double the sum he had in mind.

When it comes to agreeing terms with managers and coaches, clubs and counties have all sorts of different deals. A small rural outfit that opts for an outsider might offer between €5,000 and €10,000 per year, rising if they reach a county final. The bigger clubs can fork out €100-€150 per session which can yield €12,000 per year.

In the past 10 years or so, the issue of under-the-counter payments has developed into an uncomfortable thorn in the GAA's side. Former Clare All-Star Seamus Durack highlighted the matter once again three months ago by revealing that 30 managers were on lucrative deals in his native county alone. He had been approached by eight clubs to coach and was asked in each case about his fee.

Apart from Durack's honest declaration, the examples listed here are based on anecdotal evidence, although gathered from reliable sources. Could any of it be proven? Not a chance.

That's why Páraic Duffy's decision to launch another bid to halt unauthorised payments to managers is so surprising. Everyone knows it's going on -- even if it's not as bad as sometimes made out -- but there's little anyone can do to stop it.

In the early 1990s, former GAA president Peter Quinn was asked to investigate under-the-table payments and if he'd trademarked his famous 'we can't even find the table' report, he'd still be living off the royalties.

So what approach will be taken to try and solve the problem this time? The people who the GAA need to control are those signing the cheques or arranging the cash to attract big names. Admirable and all as Duffy's mission is, it's very difficult to see how it can succeed.

"It's not a question of new evidence, the issue is there," Duffy said last week. "As I said in my report, most managers and coaches are not paid, but there's clearly enough evidence to suggest that some are. It's time that we actually took on the issue. We need to initiate a proper debate.

"Managers are being paid, coaches are being paid -- the Association is not comfortable with it, because we do espouse and proclaim amateurism as a core value. Rooting it out would be ideal, but life is not like that and maybe it would be a question of some manner of controlling it so at least it is within the rules of the Association. Either would be better than the present situation."

Dublin chairman Gerry Harrington feels the problem is being exaggerated. "It's happening, but it's not half as bad as people make out," he says. "If a guy trains a team three times a week and plays a match at the weekend, his expenses could be quite considerable. I suppose getting this issue nailed down would be welcome, but getting evidence will be tough."

His Tipperary counterpart, Barry O'Brien, insists that unless the GAA first sorts out the under-the-counter payment issue at club level, then the Association will face an even bigger crisis.

"They're making a big issue of this at inter-county level, but it's much worse at club level and the GAA is closing its eyes to it," he warned. "Clubs want fresh faces and success and I've no right to stop them appointing outside managers, but they will soon bankrupt themselves. This is the biggest underground problem in the GAA but we first need to sort it with clubs. It's not half as bad with counties.

O'Brien added: "I really feel that if we paid the inter-county managers through the GAA's coaching and development funds and expenses schemes in a structured fashion that we'd have a formalised battalion of brilliant coaches. Right now there's hardly any trace of any compensation in annual reports and accounts."

Kilkenny secretary Nee Quinn was reluctant to delve too deep into this topic simply because his county has never experienced any indication of it. "We couldn't afford to pay our managers anyway," he says. "Even though we've been successful, we're a small county. I don't have any real knowledge of this matter but I don't understand how counties get themselves into this sort of thing. Maybe the only way we can solve it is if every county came forward in a transparent manner and gave a steer as to what's been happening. Maybe then we could go forward."

Even at the very top, there is uncertainty that this issue can ever be resolved. "We've all heard stories of managers getting €20,000, but €17,000 could be from legitimate mileage expenses over the course of a year. They're entitled to that," said one source. "Obviously, some counties are guilty of paying in excess, but if you're travelling to train a team four or five nights a week, you won't be long clocking up the expenses. This has to be put into context, as does the fact that clubs and counties cannot afford to be dishing out cash in the current climate."

Having dragged the matter out into the open, Duffy must now do all he can to resolve it. Perhaps a recognised contract between county boards and their managers is the way forward. Have structured formal payments which include expenses and other allowances with a cap in place. That would have to be policed very closely, however.

Maybe Crone Park should follow Tipperary's lead with John Evans and allow for the appointment of a Director of Football/Hurling in every county. As a paid employee, they could take on development, coaching and public relations duties as directed by the board. The salary level could be established by Crone Park, meaning that the Waterford football manager could earn just as much as his Kerry counterpart. Many county managers already visit schools, speak at launches and participate in coaching clinics.

The director-general must be very frustrated at the hypocrisy of these payments, but the last five GAA presidents all examined this dilemma without making any progress.

As for maintaining the amateur ethos, you wonder if anyone will listen when Crone Park calls for payments to be scrapped. After all, over 100 people are in full-time employment at HQ, each provincial council employs around 50 staff and many inter-county managers devote as much time to their teams as to their day jobs.

Ultimately, we can't expect much from this initiative. There will be no paper trail to follow. The people the GAA will be looking to for help include those who allow this process to take place. You can't imagine any county board incriminating itself.

Under-the-counter payments is a serious grey area for the GAA and it's unlikely the haze will lift any time soon.

Sunday Independent

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