Friday 24 November 2017

Tackling the GAA's black economy

Christy O'Connor

When Paraic Duffy first presented his discussion document on payments to managers to the GAA's management committee in Croke Park in mid-December, there was limited debate on the subject because of the document's huge scale.

Duffy's vision all along was that the document would initiate a discussion that in turn would lead to policy. However, the document's details have remained such a closely-guarded secret ever since that there has still been no meaningful debate on the biggest issue facing the GAA.

The only people who have seen its contents are the 15 members of the GAA's management committee, who have discussed the topic on just a handful of occasions.

There was some loose discussion on the subject at a Central Council meeting in early January, but with a management committee meeting scheduled again for this weekend the time has certainly come to publish some of the document's principal points and get on with the debate.

This problem will never go away until it is addressed honestly, but there has never been any progress made before because of the GAA's a la carte philosophy towards amateurism. As long as managers receive money from another source, or under the counter, the GAA can claim that their "amateur" status is intact.

That attitude has always been shot through with hypocrisy but the GAA can no longer afford to ignore the gravy train because the Revenue Commissioners have begun to chase it.

Over the last year, payments to inter-county managers have been investigated by the Revenue Commissioners as part of general audits of inter-county managers that are otherwise self-employed. For 2011, 50pc of the Revenue's audits are expected to focus on cash businesses because the commonly held view is that the shadow economy is thriving. And that economy is rife in the GAA.


With so much money floating around a black economy during a recession, now would be the ideal time to tackle the issue. This will have to be done in co-operation with the GAA, but while the Revenue would hope it will be the GAA that will move first, the GAA need to recognise it first.

During their recent tour, when Duffy and GAA president Christy Cooney met county chairmen from the four provinces, the idea of regulating payments to inter-county managers was discussed.

That has to be a serious option because it's impossible now to run teams on a totally amateur basis. The burden of work on inter-county managers has reached such a point that rough estimates point to a manager needing €40,000 a year to break even.

When the amateur status report was being drawn up in 1997, the committee had considered allowing the payment of managers. It was ultimately rejected because of a fear of categorising managers ahead of players and most county officials. However, there's an argument to be made that managers are different. A good manager can energise a parish and county, sometimes leading them to historic success, intensely promoting the game in the process.

It appears, though, that Cooney is reluctant to tackle this issue. He recently argued that the policy of recruiting outside managers "doesn't and hasn't worked". That certainly isn't true. Look at the phenomenal success that some outside managers have achieved in the last 20 years: Mick O'Dwyer, John O'Mahony, John Maughan.

In that time, some mid-tier counties have been hugely competitive: Leitrim, Fermanagh and Wexford contested All-Ireland semi-finals, all coached by outsiders. Westmeath won a first Leinster title under Paidi O Se, while Limerick almost won a first provincial title in 100 years under Liam Kearns and Mickey Ned O'Sullivan. Most of those managers were able to provide the experience that often didn't exist in those counties.

Regardless of whether managers should be paid, Gaelic games analyst Gerry McDermott believes that the rulebook allows for it. The last line in Rule 11 (now Rule 1.10 of Part 1 of the 2009 Official Guide), which deals with Amateur Status, states that "this rule shall not prohibit the payment of salaries or wages to employees of the association".

The GAA have subsequently countered McDermott's argument by saying the rule on payments refers to those employed by the association away from the playing arena, namely those involved in promotion and administration.

McDermott contends that a manager "can be paid as much as Alex Ferguson" if a club or county board can afford it -- provided he becomes an employee of that club or county board, as he would not be breaking any rules.

Rewording that rule could be a nightmare for the GAA but something will have to give. Last year, the Tipperary County Board had to withdraw their full-time offer of a director of football position to manager John Evans after Croke Park ruled it was out of order. In December, though, Tipperary's Con Hogan -- who was then a presidential candidate -- defended his suggestion for the provision of payments to inter-county managers in a role similar to the one given to Evans.

The other option is that managers could become employees of Central Council, and would be subject to the same terms as full-time development coaches. Central Council could redraw some of those funds back from county boards but it's difficult to see the GAA going down that road because of contracts, employment legislation, redundancy and wrongful dismissal claims.

Yet how can the GAA introduce any form of regulation without some form of transparency?

In the long term, there are areas that can be developed to address this issue. Given that some club coaches aren't up to the job and are in it for the money, the GAA could also implement a system whereby coaches would need the requisite coaching badges -- or an advanced licence -- before they could train teams.

Although minor clubs are a separate body, the GAA could insist on every club signing up to a charter which prioritises the funding of underage development, as opposed to exhausting the majority of funds on the quick fix of an outside manager.

Akin to the underage development squads, every county could have their own coaching academy, which would enable them to produce their own coaches. There are long-term benefits to putting a halt to continuously recruiting outside coaches and prioritising internal coaching education, because if clubs and counties continuously have a regular turnover of coaches, long-term player development is stifled.

In an interview last weekend, GAA president-elect Liam O'Neill spoke of the need for self-sufficiency. Yet while it is well intentioned, the concept is just too idealistic. It would become stifling if every coach was condemned to his own area, especially when the best way for a coach to gain experience is often through managing elsewhere.

The reality then is that few outside club managers will give up their free time and energy for nothing. Why should they when they see other managers creaming it?

If the GAA insist on internal club appointments, it would only lead to more clandestine practice. The only way forward is to remove the veil of secrecy. Otherwise, the only way to stop it now is to take the radical step of banning all outside coaches at all levels. Is that what we want? It won't happen, because many clubs simply feel they need an outside coach for success.

Toomevara in Tipperary are the prime example. They won 11 county hurling titles between 1992 and 2008, all with an outside manager. With the local politics, the club realised in the early 1990s that they needed to have an outside voice who could leave it all behind. Why should they ignore a policy that has consistently delivered them success?

Although the recession has forced clubs to adhere unconsciously to the GAA's simplest values of regeneration and cultivation from the grassroots up, paying outside managers is simply part of our culture.

It's also a by-product of the corporate climate that the GAA has created through TV and sponsorship deals and driving the popularity of inter-county games through the roof at the expense of club players. Did the GAA really think that the drive for excellence from the bottom up was not going to soar as well?

It's very difficult to see how the GAA can decide on official policy on this issue. But the time has come for serious debate, which will have a critical role in evaluating the future of amateurism in the GAA. So let's finally have it.

Irish Independent

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