Monday 20 November 2017

Manager payments tough nut for Duffy to crack

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

October -- and there isn't a sign of a rising across the GAA landscape. Limerick are smacking their lips at the prospect of Donal O'Grady's receivership of their ailing hurling business in recent weeks. Clare are getting on with it after their winter of discontent. And if Cork have any issues with Denis Walsh or anyone else (themselves included) after a disappointing season, they'll be as discreet as they possibly can.

It's still early days and the GAA's silly season has yet to really catch hold. There's the odd manager falling through a trapdoor, still little ripples of displeasure over major refereeing decisions of the summer. But nothing to bring the roof of the house in.

Is it possible then that the first off-season in several years will pass free of conflict? Not a boardroom vote of confidence to consider, not a player statement to chase beyond the witching hour?

Even the Gaelic Players Association are dampening the dust that they have raised so consistently over the last decade, happy with the near €1.4m tranche that has come their way since interim agreement was reached last November and 'peace in our time' was purchased by the GAA.

It may turn out to be money well spent. 'Pay for play' is off the agenda for this generation at least, with the realisation that the way Association's finances are currently funded, there is no way that even semi-professional status could be funded properly and equally. Unless of course the 32 counties in football are squeezed down to about 12 franchises, with hurling served by about eight in the future.

If the Association could throw the same money at the issue of payment to managers and coaches and find a similarly harmonious solution, then it would probably be considered money well spent too.

issue

But managing and coaching GAA teams are a much greater industry than a paltry €1m. And that's why, as he dots the 'i's and crosses the 't's to a report he is due to furnish within the next two weeks, the director general Paraic Duffy has already described it as "the biggest single most difficult issue we face."

Two years into his stewardship, this is already shaping up as the issue that will define it.

He may not want it that way, but his annual report in March clearly spelled out the deep commitment he has to finding harmony between the reality on the ground and the idealism of the rule book.

"There is more than enough anecdotal evidence to allow us to conclude that, while managers and coaches give generously of their time, some are accepting payment in excess of what is permitted under rule to manage and coach teams at club and inter-county level," Duffy wrote.

"What, then, should be done? The least acceptable option is to continue to proclaim a value and, at the same time, ignore it. And expressing a determination to address the issue (genuine as the intention may be) is meaningless unless followed by effective action."

That Duffy himself is taking responsibility for the report further underlines his determination to align rule with reality.

In summing it up as he did in the latter of those aforementioned paragraphs he makes it clear that there are only two adequate solutions. The "least acceptable," as he sees it, is to bring change to the rules on amateurism. Payment is not permitted for the playing of Gaelic games, but could some allowance be facilitated for the manager, who can, on average, put between 30 and 40 hours of his week into his 'other' job?

However, most management structures also contain separate coaches and physical trainers, who command high fees too -- so the potential payroll increases.

For some, making this business 'official' may be unpalatable but it may be the most pragmatic way too.

The only other real option is the more radical one, to allow counties and clubs to only draw upon their own pool of management resources.

That won't necessarily stop the payments, but it will significantly cut the bill and remove some of the perceptions that exist among grassroots.

In recent years there has been a strong move towards a younger breed of manager. Many are indigenous. The lead of Pat Gilroy's appointment in Dublin has been followed by James McCartan in Down and Jim McGuinness in Donegal. Last week it was James Horan in Mayo.

Naturally, such a move would favour the more successful, more resourceful county and club. Many counties benefit from expertise that may not necessarily be available to them otherwise. But having to draw upon one of their own for management and coaching, may force counties, in the long run, to be more pro-active in developing them. The GAA could play its part too by providing specific training courses designed for club and county management.

Alternatively, less successful counties could be designated for a period of time where they are allowed to call upon outside assistance. If a county hasn't won a provincial or league title in the last 10 years, then they could be given 'designated' status.

There are ways, but ultimately it's the will of officials to enforce whatever is coming down the line which will determine its success. In that regard Duffy won't be optimistic.

Policing any new approach will, of course, be almost impossible. In recent years the GAA has tried to enforce a moratorium on November/December training for county squads, but some have found ways to flout it. It has tried to prevent its paid coaches from managing and coaching club teams that aren't their own and has failed there too.

There's no reason to believe that any solution on the issue of payments to managers and coaches put forward in the coming weeks will square the circle either. Because money, like water, always has a habit of finding a way.

Irish Independent

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