Tuesday 23 May 2017

Payments put GAA on brink

DAMIAN LAWLOR

JUST days before county boards report to Croke Park on the introduction of managerial payments, a leading official has warned that endorsing such a system will sound the death knell for the GAA.

The 32 boards -- and cross-channel units -- must file their recommendations by Friday and Munster Council treasurer Mike Fitzgerald reckons those involved are about to make the most important decision in the Association's history.

He also feels there could have been more leadership from Croker hierarchy on this emotive subject which has already created an €15m black economy, according to some reports.

"In 1971, the GAA made right decision in relation to Rule 27 and lifting the foreign games ban and in 2006, when faced with having the only modern stadium in the country, we again made the right decision and allowed international rugby and soccer to be played at our primary stadium," he said.

"Now we have a decision to make in relation to payments to managers at inter-county and most likely club level in the future. Croke Park and board officers have met on this issue but little progress has been made. A lot has been discussed but unfortunately little leadership has been shown."

Fitzgerald feels that the over-dependence on full-time, paid administrators is not helping the cause as more members are now inclined to make money out of the GAA. He proposes that future managers should have a direct relationship with the club or county in question to ease financial pressures.

"The Association has to be administered by a number of professionals," he accepts, "but I personally feel they too have become too numerous around the country. It seems paid officials are the answer to all our problems and maybe that's influencing managers who also want a few bob.

"For us to progress, the emphasis must go back to club, community and county. The rules governing players' eligibility with a team should also apply to manager -- he must have a direct connection with a side to be involved.

"Almost all of the successful counties have home-grown managers," he adds. "And if the weaker and lesser counties need support, then Croke Park should supply coaches from the existent, very large pool of full-time coaches that are already largely paid for by HQ, the provincial councils and county boards."

Fitzgerald, who served as Limerick treasurer from 1992-2002 and also as senior hurling selector in 2001, reckons too many people are trying to liken the financial configuration of the GAA to premiership soccer and provincial rugby, but feels such comparisons are misguided and unhelpful.

"Any straight-thinking progressive GAA administrator should see payments to managers as a non-runner," he states. "The 'professionalism' issue has mostly come about as a result of our close proximity with professional soccer in England and professional rugby in our own country.

"But pro soccer is a worldwide sport viewed by a couple of billion people -- the last Sky Sports deal was worth over €1bn to the clubs and that excluded gate receipts and sponsorship.

"International rugby is viewed by in the region of 200m people worldwide but genuine followers will tell you that if our Heineken Cup teams failed to progress for a year or two there could also be financial problems there.

"The GAA, meanwhile, is an amateur organisation that probably will never enjoy the luxury of having a Sky Sports deal. It attracts three to four million viewers maximum; our games are virtually unknown outside Ireland -- except for interested emigrants in mostly Britain and the US.

"You cannot compare like with like. People are trying to make out we should follow the leads of soccer and rugby whereas the truth is our main strengths are that we are not like them at all. And that's our strength.

"We're envied by other sports organisations in Ireland and further afield. Our amateur status is our greatest asset -- the day managers and players are paid would be the death knell of it all."

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