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Duffy taking hard line

IN that distant era when the GAA's infamous 'ban' on foreign sports was in place, the rule was enforced by vigilance committees whose members would attend 'excluded' games - usually soccer or rugby - and report on GAA members who were either playing or watching.

Now, over 40 years later, a new form of GAA 'vigilante' could be in the offing. This may alarm some supporters with long memories. It may even scare a few inter-county managers who are being paid 'under the counter' and/or organising covert training sessions in the middle of November.

But what is the alternative? Either Croke Park gets vigilant or it continues to wallow in hypocrisy - a pejorative term, for sure, but one that best sums up the GAA's nod-wink attitude to paying managers and enforcing the 'closed season' training ban.

Illicit remuneration of managers and flouting the November/December moratorium are obviously separate topics.

Yet, in one respect, they are interlinked. The ever-growing levels of commitment, organisation and expertise required of GAA managers go some way to explaining why at least some of them are paid above and beyond their 'legitimate' expenses.

The ballooning pressure on managers to deliver success also helps to explain why some (or maybe lots) of them are organising collective training sessions at a time when players are meant to be either resting their battered bodies or confining their training to individual gym programmes.

Yesterday, in the GAA Museum's auditorium, director-general Páraic Duffy unveiled his latest report to Congress. It was a thought-provoking document covering myriad topics - the annual staples but also a few headline-making surprises.

The issue of paying managers is barely touched upon - hardly a surprise given that Duffy's discussion document on the same was made public last January and all 32 counties have now had their say on the various options contained therein.

Here's the rub. The counties have voted overwhelmingly for full implementation of the GAA's amateur ethos as it applies to team managers. Now it behoves Croke Park to find a methodology of enforcement that reflects this viewpoint - and one that, by the way, also satisfies the Revenue Commissioners.

Counties, however, can't have their cake and eat it. They can't solemnly 'uphold' amateurism while facilitating the status quo - ie, being complicit in a scenario where their manager is paid, even by a third party.

"My personal view is we should take the hard decisions," said Duffy, during a discussion on managerial payments and the closed season at yesterday's press briefing. Sitting alongside, GAA president Christy Cooney supported his director-general, pointing out that counties have given their response.

But is it stretching credulity to think the GAA will genuinely crack down on the rule-breakers? What happens if, in a year's time, it is discovered that 'x' county has been paying its manager?

Duffy's response was that this should be the first question at next year's annual report briefing, as a measure of how the GAA has tackled the issue.


The 'closed season' controversy has been rumbling on ever since its introduction, primarily because of its lax enforcement.

As a clearly frustrated Duffy now writes: "We like to pride ourselves on being a proud amateur sports organisation, yet we insist on imposing on our amateur players the standards of professional sport.

"College students continue to trek home on week nights in November and December to collective training sessions that are in breach of our rules, a practice to which our county committees are either a party, or condone by their silence.

"The lack of support within the GAA for a policy that is rooted in player-welfare considerations, and that allows players a period in which they are in control of meeting their own fitness needs, is more than surprising."

The naysayers will argue - not without some substance - that imposing a blanket November-December training ban is too blunt an instrument to tackle player burnout. They will also allude to potentially injurious consequences for players who are thrown straight into an O'Byrne Cup match barely a week after they have officially resumed training.

The solution may come in a motion tabled by Central Council for consideration by Congress next month. This motion advocates a staggered return to inter-county training, depending on when your county exited the All-Ireland championship.

In other words, counties knocked out in June can resume training on November 15; July losers can start back on December 1; teams beaten in August can resume on December 8; and All-Ireland finalists can return to the collective treadmill on December 29. Christmas week (December 21-28) would be off-limits for all games and collective training.

"There is also a motion from Laois to remove the rule completely, which means that Congress is effectively faced with three options: retain the current rule, remove it, or accept the phased return to training," Duffy outlines.


"It may be that Congress will decide to delete the rule, but it will be regrettable if it is removed primarily because counties don't have the will to implement a rule passed by Congress."

And if the rule stays, the GAA chief laid his cards on the table. "Of course, outrage will be expressed against any kind of vigilance with regard to observance of the rule, but this would be preferable to the present situation where an unspoken agreement to ignore the rule reflects badly on the association.

"We have a clear choice: abolish the 'closed season', or enforce the rule that governs it," Duffy concludes.