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Eugene McGee: Time for GAA to take head out of sand

The silence of the lambs is about the best description I can find for the results of the Irish Independent survey regarding payments to GAA managers.

For a body of people who are usually prepared to comment at the drop of a hat, these county board officers who were contacted seem to be remarkably reluctant to offer a view on one of the burning issues of the day. A third of respondents did not take part at all in the survey for a variety of reasons. Louth only answered one question.

Sligo, Armagh, Down, Derry, Fermanagh Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Meath and Clare did not take part. Cork replied that they always abided by GAA rules.

This unusual reticence on the part of GAA officials is no great surprise to those of us who have followed this debate about over-the-top payment for managers. There is little doubt that, from time to time, some county team managers have been receiving more money than the GAA expenses system allows.


It is important to point out that some county boards in this position have not technically broken any rules -- because the money paid out to managers did not come from county board revenues. Sometimes it came from supporters' clubs acting independently of county boards and occasionally some GAA-style 'sugar daddy' provided the money.

But from the GAA's viewpoint at official level in Croke Park, all these forms of payments are 'illegal'. And while the county team managers are the ones in the limelight on this issue, the far more serious problem for the GAA occurs when hundreds and hundreds of club managers are also getting paid 'illegally' according to GAA rules.

At a conservative estimate, €12m per year is paid out to these club managers who usually average €100 per training session. There are normally three per week and often a game on the weekend as well. Bearing in mind there are around 1,000 senior club teams in football alone, we can see how the training bills have become so enormous.

In the survey, not one participant admitted that his county ever paid extra to a county manager. However, the suspicion persists that some counties have abused the rules in this matter. No manager has ever admitted publicly that he was paid over the limits, but some have often gone very close to doing so, because they genuinely believe that there is nothing wrong with getting paid extra.

Many GAA people, possibly the majority, would agree with that sentiment. The point is made that running a county team is as demanding as a full-time job and often more so -- therefore they should be rewarded by receiving an adequate wage.

Pay the manager in the same way as most county secretaries are paid according to normal wage procedures. Maybe even give him a bonus if he wins a provincial or All-Ireland title!

There's a couple of specific reasons why top GAA officials are so worried about payment for managers. There is the real danger that if managers are paid substantially over the normal rate of expenses it will inevitably lead to a demand down the road for players to be paid the same and it is hard to deny such a claim.

The other issue is that of the GAA's so-called amateur ethos which has been THE cornerstone of the association since 1884. Up to around 30 years ago, only about 20 people were paid, full-time officers in the GAA and the amateur status was accepted as the norm.

Nowadays, however, many hundreds of people, officials, coaches etc, are paid members of the GAA so the concept of a strict amateur organisation has waned somewhat. If county managers were to be paid, it would certainly rock the amateur foundations more than anything else and would weaken the position of those members, particularly in Ulster, who regard the the amateur ethos as fundamental to their GAA activity.

Solutions here are hard to find and look like being a choice between a tightly-controlled new payment structure for managers of county teams which accepts the importance of their role in the GAA, or, alternatively, strict compliance with the present system where expenses are the same for players, officials and managers.

The lack of certainty contained in both these solutions does not augur well for eliminating the situation where some of the finest officials in the GAA are forced to cover up for the present system in many counties where managers are being paid.