Tuesday 27 June 2017

Paid professionals at Croke Park causing disquietamong grassroots volunteers

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

THE burgeoning number of paid professionals in the GAA's administration causes complaints and issues at local level, according to some county chairmen.

Several admitted, off the record, that the fact that the GAA now has so many paid adminstrators, especially in Croke Park, has raised questions about what they are asking of volunteers elsewhere in the organisation.

The sport may still be amateur but it has grown to such a level that it is professional in all but name in terms of administration, coaching development and its ability to stage prime-time TV entertainment that now matches most professional sports. The job of county secretary, which was traditionally a voluntary position, is now a paid one in most counties as the workload is deemed worthy of having a full-time administrator.

All four provinces have long had their own offices and full-time officials and, at central level, the GAA has a large staff in Croke Park.

But according to some, this has raised issues for ordinary GAA members, who believe a gap has developed between volunteers and the full-time administrators.

"Whether you're talking about payments to managers, or directives that are coming down from Croke Park on other issues, that is the elephant in the room," one chairman said.

"You'd often get it at local level, people querying why there's fellas in Croke Park getting paid €100,000-a-year.

"Whether it's true or not, that is the perception, that there's an awful lot of people within the GAA getting very well paid now, while others are still working away voluntarily, and that it's more than a bit hypocritical of them to be giving out about what counties or clubs are doing financially.

"There is clearly a lot of people in the GAA already getting very well paid, whether they are administrators or medical or back-up staff working with teams or full-time coaches working for clubs or counties."

THE PERCEPTIONS

Many chairmen responded to Question Three (Are other counties making 'illegal' payments?) with variations on "I really don't know but you hear stuff."

One chairman revealed he had "met officers (from other boards) over the years who had admitted paying managers cash, or of them being supplemented by business" but he did not wish to be identified or identify who they were.

Another said: "There's a lot of talk and it does seem often that there are people, whether at county or club level, who are on a sort of a circuit, and you would have suspicions about what they are getting."

Another said he believed "there is a much worse merry-go-round, that of all these physios and trainers and other people now working with teams. They're costing as much, or more, than any manager and a lot of the time teams can't afford them. You'd often wonder what their function is ... but absolutely no one is questioning them."

Several chairmen felt Croke Park needs to introduce a more formal template of managers' expenses, which every county should have to conform to and produce.

They admitted this would still not stop 'under the table' payments but felt it would make people adhere more strictly to what is allowed and remove any 'grey areas' that now exist.

THE MISCONCEPTIONS

While rumours abound about what inter-county managers are being paid, one chairman admitted to being highly sceptical about such speculation now, since he got it wrong in the past.

More than a decade ago he was convinced that the high-profile county senior manager his own county had brought in was being paid.

"I wasn't involved on the executive then but I asked a lot of questions because I was absolutely convinced this man was being 'paid'," he said.

But he said his mind was changed in the past year when he visited the former county treasurer and asked him about what had gone on. He said the ex-treasurer swore they did not pay the manager over the odds and produced the county board ledgers to prove it.

They showed that the man in question had been paid verified expenses of €10,000 one year and €8,000 another. "I was absolutely convinced that this man was getting a rake of money but I was wrong," he said. "So I wonder now how much of what we hear anecdotally is just speculation and gossip, considering I was so wrong about something happening within my own county."

This chairman also revealed that when his county were recruiting a manager a few years back they sent each of the candidates seven questions and the last one was: 'What do you expect to get for expenses?'

"All but one of them wrote 'nothing.' The only one who named a figure was a man from within our own county and he was never in the running," the chairman revealed. "We have a manager from outside the county now and I'd say people think we are 'paying' him but we are not. He has never looked for anything but expenses."

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