Thursday 12 December 2019

Colm O'Rourke: New guidelines needed to keep down price of success

Payments to managers remain a thorny issue at all levels of the GAA, writes Colm O'Rourke

P áraic Duffy has announced the latest search for the ghost that haunts the GAA -- the manager who is paid.

That creature, like the Abominable Snowman, will remain hidden. But what Duffy will do is force people to face facts, even if those facts can't be proven.

What we have now is a typical Irish solution to a GAA problem. County boards can claim, genuinely in most cases, that they pay only mileage and general expenses to managers. If some group of non-elected supporters help out in some other shape or form, then it is not their problem.

The committee being set up this time will hardly find any more evidence of unauthorised payments to managers than others have in the past. What Duffy appears to be asking out loud is if it is better to regularise the existing situation and place managers in the same position as other full-time officials. And there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. At the very least it would be an improvement on the present hypocritical situation of blind eyes and deaf ears.

Yet if this is the road we are to travel, there are serious health warnings. Will all counties have to pay their managers whether internal or otherwise? Who would set the rate? Would there be set mileage expenses on top? Would there be a bonus system for getting to certain stages of the league and championship? What would happen to all the selectors and advisers? Would they be entitled to payment?

The mechanics of making a system work are difficult, but nothing is impossible. If a set payment plus expenses was put in place, it would at least bring certainty and order and wipe out the perception that most outside managers are in it for the money. The field would be levelled for everyone.

Of course, there would still be nothing to stop some outside group of interested supporters adding to the pot in order to attract a big name. Yet in reality the number involved in management for money is probably quite small and the sums touted are likely to be greatly inflated. In other words, I don't believe most of what I hear and hardly any of what I read in relation to payments to managers.

I am hardly a complete innocent abroad on such matters. I have had conversations with various counties in the past in relation to county management. I might add that I was not making the running and the conversations were quite short. Being the ultimate bogman, I prefer not to wander too far from home, but the counties involved never impressed me as willing to shower anyone with untold riches. The motives were entirely honourable, they wanted the best for their county and were willing to shop around. One chairman finished the brief encounter with the words, "this conversation never took place". I was quite happy to agree, he could have been an agent for Mossad or the CIA.

I have absolutely no issue with outside managers. If they want to drive for hours to see whether they can make something of another county side, then good luck to them. It often means seven or eight hours on the road to get to and from training and games. To me, there is no amount of money that could compensate for that, but if it is out in the open then everyone knows what they are getting into.

A set payment of €10,000 to €20,000 plus expenses would be very attractive at present given economic circumstances, but there are only a small number capable of managing a county team, whether payments are under or over the counter.

The money should really be secondary to getting the right man. And that right man is just as valuable and will work as hard in a county as a paid coach or secretary. A measurement of the productivity of all might show that the manager with the greatest influence is at present getting no obvious return.

The big danger of course is creating a new tier of paid employees in a so-called amateur organisation with declining resources and the obvious concerns that players might further question their place. In general, though, players only want a system of management which gives them a chance to fulfill their potential. If some form of payment ensured better candidates making themselves available, then players would be quite relieved. As it is, the time element involved and lack of remuneration rules out a lot of quality people.

However, it is not at county level where the issue of payments to managers needs sorting out. Clubs completely ignore any form of guidelines and the guardians of

amateurism are complicit in breaking the rules which they agree to be bound by. Anything that could win a county title is quite acceptable to most clubs, the price is almost irrelevant.

This is where new guidelines are necessary. By all means compensate somebody for training a team but if it starts going above €100 a week, then I have a big problem. The sight of old men and women selling lotto tickets at €1 a throw to fund someone who may have no real interest in the club is something that would stick in my throat a bit. Again, some clubs feel the only way to get players motivated is to get a stranger. The only problem is that that stranger will remain a stranger and I generally prefer to win or lose with a local. At least there is never any questioning of motive.

This difference between a local and a stranger is sometimes hard to tell. Once upon a time many years ago, the old parish priest where I lived was robbed of his bingo money when he went home with the takings one night. He was obviously quite upset by this and at Mass the following Sunday told everyone of his misfortune.

The elderly priest then informed his flock that he knew the culprit was either a local or a stranger and probably the latter. This revelation brought some light relief. It was hardly an Inspector Morse moment, just another example, from 30 years ago, of the stranger ripping off the locals.

Sunday Independent

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