Friday 26 May 2017

Momentum towards professionalism looks irresistible

Tommy Conlon

The county boards have spoken, Croke Park has got its answer: not a pound, not a penny, not an inch.

Just over five weeks ago, the GAA's director-general, Páraic Duffy, published a discussion document entitled GAA Amateur Status and Payments to Team Managers. It was an impressively thoughtful essay on a complex issue. But at the end of it a fairly simple question awaited: to pay or not to pay?

County boards were asked to conduct internal soundings and come back with an answer before last Friday's deadline. One by one they have returned with similar verdicts: no pay. They have done so in the full knowledge that some senior county team managers are being paid illegally. A few have done so in the full knowledge that their own managers are being paid illegally. They all have done so knowing it is a widespread practice at club level too.

They know it's a double standard. Perhaps they are clinging for comfort to the words of St Augustine: 'Lord make me chaste -- but not yet.' Duffy offered them three options: retain the current brown-envelope culture. Strictly impose the rules on amateur status. Or legalise payments to managers. Boards have strongly come out in support of the second option.

This will require an elaborate policing strategy. It will require an added layer of bureaucracy to administer. It will require that all prospective managers, selectors and backroom staff submit their personal details, including their PPS numbers, to a Registration and Audit Board. County board chairmen, secretaries and treasurers will have to sign off on all expenses and income paid to those registered. They will have to declare that all payments are in compliance with Rule 1.10 of the Official Guide -- the rule which enshrines amateur status. The Registration and Audit Board will be empowered to conduct investigations. Strong sanctions will be imposed if officers are found to have falsified details.

In other words, here comes the hard part: implementation. It will, wrote Duffy, "be critical that the implementation of this model be consistent and unrelenting and that a climate be created in which it would be clear to all concerned that seeking to circumvent, ignore or subvert the procedures and checks of the registration model would not be tolerated."

But if ever an issue contained several shades of grey, it's this one. For starters, good managers are hard to find. And some outside managers have had transformational effects on the sides they have taken charge of. They have inspired teams and steered them to new heights, bringing communities together and energising the local population. The promotional and social benefits are hard to quantify but they are real and they have a lasting effect.

A GAA official who has sanctioned illegal payments to such a manager can validly argue that he did the right thing -- for the team, the supporters and the game itself -- even if he broke the rules. The alternative would've been to settle for a less capable manager and deprive everyone of the good days that everyone needs from time to time.

But whether the manager is home-grown or imported, the modern workload is enormous. The sheer amount of time spent on the training ground, at meetings, in the car and on the phone, comes close to a 40-hour week. Logistically, it's a six-day week and it's in the manager's head space on the seventh day too. There is the day job and the wife and kids too. The stress levels, one imagines, are almost intolerable.

Duffy acknowledged as much in his discussion document. "We must ask ourselves," he wrote, "if it is either reasonable or realistic to expect that the person who fulfils this critical and time-consuming leadership (role) can be expected to do so on an entirely voluntary basis."

Well, it is certainly not reasonable, and it is becoming increasingly unrealistic too. One suspects that Duffy knows this. Perhaps he doubts whether the strict implementation of Rule 1.10, which he now has to undertake, will work either.

The feeling here is that it will ultimately fail. Let's say the Registration and Audit board is established, and that every county board is compliant. It still won't

stop the clandestine handover of cash from, say, a member of a supporters' club in a hotel room or the manager's own living room.

If it doesn't happen that way, it will probably happen some other way, because the momentum towards professionalism, the overall drift, looks nigh irresistible.

In 20 years' time, maybe even ten, it's conceivable that the Duffy initiative of 2012 will be seen as a futile attempt to hold back the tide. But if it fails, it will have been a necessary failure. The GAA, patently, isn't ready to bite the bullet and make payment to managers official policy. They know that as night follows day, payment to players will be next on the agenda. Not paying managers is a bulwark against the last Rubicon.

They therefore have to make this stand now, and see if they can hold the line here. If they find out eventually that they can't, then they might have figured out a better way in the meantime to manage the transition to a new paradigm. So, it is worth pursuing, if only to buy time; if only to establish beyond all doubt that the amateur era is no longer sustainable.

thecouch@independent.ie

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