Paying managers is a recipe for chaos
It has been a curious month for the GAA. Perhaps in time it will become clear it has been a seminal one for the association, one of those moments in time which may rank up there in future histories with the removal of the Ban and the opening up of Croke Park to rugby and soccer.
Because this was the month when it finally became clear to the GAA that it could no longer keep its head buried in the sand. The game is up.
Last week, county board officials left a meeting in Croke Park with an instruction from the top table to have written submissions on the contents of Páraic Duffy's discussion paper on payments to managers filed by February 24. You can bet your last under-the-counter payment that almost all, if not all, will outline their objections to the payment of managers and give plenty of good reasons why it could not be sustained.
Remember, these are the same county boards who are currently overseeing the wholesale flouting of the GAA's amateur status rule. They are the same officials who allowed their teams to openly make a mockery of the winter training ban. And they are the same officials who will fight tooth and nail against the GAA's disciplinary system when it is their own county in the firing line.
Now, though, it seems is the time for all good men to come to. Because the debate around payments to managers is about much more than that. It is about the future of the GAA. It is about counties at long last taking responsibility for their own actions and having the courage of their convictions to stop running scared from their managers and to start adhering to the GAA's rules and principles.
As part of that process, it's time for the association to start asking the right questions. And asking if inter-county managers should be paid is not one of those.
Of more relevance, perhaps, is: why should inter-county managers be paid? Or, more important still, should the GAA strive now to put the clubs back centre stage? Or, even more important again, is this fad -- for fad is surely what it is -- of 'the manager' in danger of driving players away?
On this point, Seán Cavanagh's comments last week were very revealing, as are Joe Sheridan's in this paper today. Players are training junkies and will generally do what is asked of them, but the underlying message is clear: 'There's only so much we can take'.
"At 5.30 in the morning I am trying to put the wee girl back into her cot these days," said Cavanagh. "I couldn't even look at training."
The reality is that players are amateur athletes who have lives to lead away from football or hurling. Yes, the game is very important to them -- extremely important for most in fact -- but does that give managers the right to behave the way they are?
There are stories of players taking breaks at work to go for a nap, so exhausted are they with a regime of two sessions a day. Clearly, this is not sustainable and cracks are already starting to appear. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that a squad of players will strike at some point in the not too distant future over the way they are being mercilessly flogged? I don't think so.
Managers have effectively taken over the GAA. They have become more powerful than the officials who appoint them and more important in the public eye than the players they train. They have the power to keep hundreds of players out of action for weeks on end by getting club fixtures abandoned. They have the power to render those who are supposed to be in charge impotent.
Ultimately, if managers are paid it is only a stepping stone to -- at the very least -- semi-professionalism. Why should players be the only ones in a dressing room before a game not being paid? Players and the GPA are genuine when they say they are not interested in pay for play -- but that is their view now and it is not set in stone. It will most certainly evolve to a different point of view if formal payment is introduced for managers.
Páraic Duffy's predecessor, Liam Mulvihill, had this to say in 2006: "Semi-professionalism or professionalism would totally alter the structures upon which our games are based and would, I believe, weaken those structures so seriously as to damage the association and games irreparably.
"Indeed it is certain that in a short space of time few if any counties would be fielding teams in both codes. They simply would neither have the resources nor the will to do so. The impact of this on the promotion of our games would be catastrophic.
"The creation of an elite, which would be inevitable with the introduction of professionalism, would deprive Gaelic games of the unique flavour that makes them so special. The whole ethos of our games is a pride in place, a familiarity with those who represent us, a sense of belonging and being part of an adventure. There is no place for elitism in that sense.
"Pay for play would inevitably lead to an open market in which players become products to be used at the whim of merchants. I don't believe that would be attractive to our supporters. I don't believe it would be attractive to the players themselves. There are irrefutable arguments for caring for our players as best we can. But I cannot find any argument in favour of 'pay for play'."
In a way, the chickens are coming home to roost. The GAA failed to respond adequately when the inter-county game exploded into life in the '90s. The money flowed in through massive increases in sponsorship revenue and gate receipts but all the while the top end of the GAA and its inter-county arm was moving further and further away from its roots.
Clubs were left adrift, ordinary members and players were cast to one side and a blind eye was turned to the blatant breaches of the GAA's rules and ethos. It may prove that a majority of the GAA's members are happy to see it going down this road -- although I somehow doubt it. For now, though, the equilibrium needs to be restored.
Sunday Indo Sport