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Duffy report 'ignores mess at club level'

Mark Conway, founder of the Ulster-based lobby group Of One Belief, has slammed the GAA's report on unregulated managerial payments for "almost totally ignoring"the problem at club level.

Of One Belief was founded to campaign against grants for inter-county players, but now Conway fears the GAA hierarchy is losing touch with the grassroots.

It is thought that at least 30 out of the 64 inter-county managers are being paid in excess of the rates set out in GAA guidelines. But the abuses are far more widespread at club level where it's estimated that around one third of coaches receive over €100 per training session -- about 900 coaches; a far more daunting figure than the ratio on the inter-county stage.

"I feel that the report did not address the grassroots dilemma adequately," says Conway. "Considering the scale of the problem is much bigger at ground level that's not good. The GAA was once an outfit that looked after everyone from top to bottom but we've rapidly lost that ideal. Traditionally, we were a 'millionaire meets pauper' organisation, where an All-Ireland winner could still come up against the worst junior footballer; that was one of the great beauties of what we had.

"At the centre of our games, the club scene, managers are being paid and I don't have to go a million miles away to know that. However, I feel that the top officials are only interested in what happens in Croke Park at All-Ireland quarter-final stage and beyond -- that was brought home to me with this report. We have full-time paid professionals trying to dictate to us what to do. People won't accept it in the long term. We've lost the plot."

Conway, chairman of his club Kildress, feels drastic action and rigorous enforcing of rules are necessary to alleviate the problem of local level payments.

"The answer is simple, but it will take strict action," he insists. "I'm an officer with Kildress but to hold office I must be a club member and either live or work there; I must have an affiliation with the club. The same applies to all our officers -- they must meet the criteria to get on the list of executives we submit to Tyrone GAA. Likewise, the players must be members and live or work in the parish to play a game.

"So those exact demands should now be made of managers. If an outside guy comes in, he must become a member of the club and should meet the same criteria as the rest of us -- either live or work here. That would test their commitment and more probably it would cut this trend of outsiders coming in for a year, making money before they move on."

Conway admires Duffy's commitment in trying to bring this issue into the open but is dubious about the invoicing system suggested by the director-general as a solution.

"Even if a basic universal fee of, say, €10,000 is made available for all managers that's going to amount to €640,000 -- two thirds of a million. Who'll write the cheques? Will it be the counties or will it come centrally? Hypothetically speaking, would the Tyrone hurling manager be entitled to it as much as the Tyrone footballer? And what are we currently spending that money on? Will the clubs lose out? Year after year, with inflation, that figure will only rise," he added.

"There are so many questions and there's another flaw with the idea -- if a manager gets €10,000 for coaching a smaller county with €10,000 also on offer for guiding a bigger county like Tyrone with a bigger pool of players, chances are the smaller county will have to privately arrange more cash to have any chance of luring that manager in.

"Some coaches will want some cash in hand to keep their tax bills down. They might only invoice for €8,000 whilst keeping €2,000 undeclared. The whole thing is a mess. It's a crisis but it's worse at club level."

Sunday Indo Sport