Is it time for managers to be paid?
IF Liam Sheedy had steered any county other than his native Tipperary to an All-Ireland title this year, he would probably be now studying the draws for next year's championship and beginning plans for the 2011 campaign.
It would involve the same time-consuming detail he brought to the Tipperary job over the past three seasons but played out against a different backdrop. Basically, Sheedy would be much better off financially than he currently is because he would have been paid handsomely for his efforts. And with Liam MacCarthy touring the clubs and schools as a gleaming symbol of success, he could expect a substantial increase for 2011. That would be a mighty incentive to stay on.
Therein lies the great contradiction of modern-day GAA team management. Home-grown bosses, however successful, receive nothing other than basic expenses while outsiders can pocket large wads of untaxed cash. Not all, perhaps, but nobody is naive enough to believe that the extensive criss-crossing of county boundaries is so zealously undertaken with the aim of fostering the spirit of Cusack, Davin and Co. Quite simply, team management -- at both county and club level -- can have a large black-economy element for outsiders.
Meanwhile, those who remain at home receive nothing other than basic expenses. Brian Cody led Kilkenny to seven of 10 All-Ireland titles in the last decade but the thought of being paid by the county board would never have entered his head, no more than the board would have considered paying him. Yet, if Cody were to quit Kilkenny and enter the open market, he could name his own price.
Sheedy's arrangement in Tipperary was the same as Cody's in Kilkenny. Neither looks outside the county boundary for managers, nor do they pay them.
However, Sheedy's decision to quit at a time when Tipperary's stock is at its highest for almost a decade inevitably cranks up the rumour mill up to full power.
In the time-honoured GAA tradition of never finding a conspiracy theory too small to spread, there will be plenty of takers for the view that the lack of financial reward had something to do with his decision to step down.
It hadn't, not directly anyway. However, if, as seems to be the case, he was devoting up to 40 hours a week to hurling duties, it's hardly surprising that a breaking point was reached. Amateur sport is supposed to be a pastime, not an extension of the pressurised world in which we now live.
As a bank employee, one who has recently taken on greater responsibility, Sheedy has enough business demands during the day without facing into another full-time job in the evenings.
Of course if the second 'job' was financially rewarding it would make it easier but that wasn't the case.
There's a tendency to confuse the role of GAA team manager with their soccer/rugby counterparts. It was, perhaps, best illustrated by repeated bulletins on RTE on Thursday that Sheedy had been offered a new two-year contract by the Tipperary County Board.
Contracts? They're for Giovanni Trapattoni, Declan Kidney, Alex Ferguson, Martin Johnston etc and come with a string of figures on the line marked 'Remuneration'. Sheedy's 'contract' would have consisted of a verbal invitation by the county board to continue managing Tipperary for free for the next two years.
There's nothing wrong with that since it's a core -- if much abused -- fundamental of the GAA. However, it does lead to rash judgments, not to mention mischievous claims that there must be more to this than meets the eye.
GAA managers don't operate in a personal vacuum. Most of them have families -- including young children in some cases -- so the pursuit of a pastime which results in the father hardly ever being at home except during sleeping hours impacts greatly on others.
Yet, when an All-Ireland-winning manager steps off the treadmill to return to a normal life, it's automatically assumed there's something deeply mysterious about the decision. It becomes incomprehensible that he could abandon the glamour and glitz as seen on the big day.
The manager, and indeed the players, become part of supporters' perceptions of what life is like at the top end of the sporting scale without realising that the road to September glory (or indeed failure) starts on a miserable January night and continues right through the year.
Sheedy's resignation is a major talking point because he's leaving an All-Ireland-winning team. If, for instance, Galway had held out when leading by two points late on in the All-Ireland quarter-final, or Kilkenny had beaten them in the final, his departure would have been regarded as no more than natural attrition among managers.
Now, people find it impossible to understand why he is exiting at a time of great success. Could it be something as simple as a man having immersed himself so deeply in the role that, having reached the pinnacle, he needs time to re-energise himself? It could -- indeed it probably is.
Sheedy's departure shouldn't have come as such a big shock. It was rumoured months ago that he would quit at the end of this year's championship whether or not Tipperary were successful. However, once Tipperary won the All-Ireland it was automatically assumed that he would remain on. Clearly, the earlier reports were true.
The fact that he waited almost five weeks after the All-Ireland final to announce his decision has added further to the speculation that the full story is not being told. That may be fertile ground for speculation but in reality it's probably no more than a case of a man giving himself time to consider exactly where he stood once the initial euphoria of the All-Ireland triumph had subsided. Having done that, he still felt it was right to get out.
The Tipperary public were stunned by his decision not to continue at a time when the county is so well stocked with talent, yet he wasn't without his critics after the 10-point defeat by Cork in the Munster quarter-final last May. Indeed, some of the attacks were vicious although, quite naturally, those responsible have since attempted to gloss over them.
The resignation of an All-Ireland-winning manager inevitably raises all sorts of theories, not to mention claims that the job is becoming so stressful that in the future it will be difficult to coax talented people to devote so much of their lives to a pastime. Frankly, it's a bit early for that assessment.
Five managers have left immediately after winning All-Ireland titles and, in the case of one (Liam Griffin), it was for family reasons. Of the others, three (Kevin Heffernan, Donal O'Grady and Jack O'Connor) returned to management, leaving Dr Pat O'Neill as the only one to totally cut the cord.
The chances are that Sheedy will be back again, either with Tipperary or elsewhere. The bizarre irony is that if he returns to Tipperary it will be on the same basis as operated for the past three seasons whereas if he moves to another county, he will be well paid.
That's why the money element of management cannot be ignored. Would Sheedy have continued with Tipperary if he was offered a substantial fee? It would certainly go some way towards compensating for the long hours he put in.
It was never going to happen in Tipperary but, almost certainly, Sheedy will be offered a lucrative deal elsewhere inside the next two years.
There's the big problem for the GAA. Some counties are adhering rigidly to the rules on amateurism while others are not. Still, history continues to show that most of the big prizes go to counties with local managers.
The other issue centres on whether team management has become so demanding than even an All-Ireland winner feels he can't continue to combine it with his other responsibilities. Ultimately, that seems to be the sole reason for Sheedy's exit, however much the conspiracy theorists would like to believe otherwise.