Wednesday 19 September 2018

Comment: The issue of unauthorised payments to inter-county and club managers still irks Páraic Duffy

Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Páraic Duffy during the GAA Director General's Annual Report Launch at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Páraic Duffy during the GAA Director General's Annual Report Launch at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Those partitionists in favour of splitting Dublin, a faintly mischievous idea with origins in a Strategic Review Committee report from 2002, found little solidarity in Paraic Duffy’s 11th report as Director General earlier today. In his final salvo before he steps down from the position in March, Duffy said he felt the need to set out his position, emphatically dismissing the calls for division, which may end this silly debate once and for all.

In his report Duffy asked if the split lobby had given any thought to the likely impact of such a move or to what Dublin “would lose”.

Dublin’s core identity, he argued, would be compromised by a split and he also disputed the reformist argument that Dublin had become too competitive and virtually untouchable.

Duffy leaned on history, which tends to repeat itself. Superior financial resources and population numbers, he noted, had not prevented Dublin from winning a meagre one All-Ireland senior football title between 1983 and 2011. He also raised the fact that of Dublin’s five All-Ireland final wins from the last seven years the margin of victory on four occasions had been a single point. One of those finals went to a replay.

The more persuasive part of his argument, however, related to identity and the implications on that score for Dublin if a split were to happen. Identity is a fundamental part of the GAA experience and condition, its DNA, and any attempt to interfere with this, through a form of partition, is unfeasible and potentially destructive. The plan to split Dublin has echoes of Maggie Thatcher taking out a map of Ireland and drawing a random line across the middle indicating where she felt the border should be.

Of more immediate relevance, and closer to Duffy’s own heart, was the issue of unauthorised payments to county and, in particular, club managers. Since he first raised the issue and brought out a discussion paper in 2010 calling for more debate, he claims that the anecdotal evidence suggests that unwarranted club payments have shot through the roof.

Duffy would like a fresh debate. He was quick to correct a false impression that he was against outside managers, recognising the value some have brought especially at county level. But the GAA’s preferred model is to have clubs, especially, looking to promote their own local coaches and managers. Ultimately, as he put it, it comes down to clubs deciding what they want and what values they wish to cultivate.

“It is down to members of the GAA deciding what kind of organisation it wants,” as Duffy explained. “We are swimming against the tide now. Sport is all about professionalism. So we are trying to do something that is quite difficult. Because money rules. So it is difficult. But if you want retain that (amateur) position you have to try to retain it. It is a state of mind and an attitude.”

On club fixtures, anther bone of contention, leading to the creation of the Club Players Association, Duffy insists that the onus is on county boards to make the most of the five Sundays in April allocated for domestic games, with that month declared free of inter-county fixtures in an effort to redress the balance between club and county interests. Duffy said that county committees need to stand up to county managers although not all managers were un-co-operative, citing his own county manager Malachy O’Rourke as a good example.

Duffy believes there is no reason why each county can’t run off four fixtures in April, and the county players can still train with the county panels during the week. Any deviation from that system driven by county managers needs to be resisted by county committees, he added.

He noted that by July 8 this year, under the new fixture changes, only eight teams will be left in the All-Ireland senior football championship. By July 29 the two All-Ireland senior hurling finalists will be known. “There should,” reported Duffy, “be no need for counties to eliminate teams from their championships in April or May, as happened in the past.”

But clubs should accept, Duffy said, that county players won’t be available for some of their league games in the busy inter-county months of May and June. He also strongly supports the idea of playing club fixtures in the one calendar year.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Duffy’s report is found in the conclusion where he address the GAA relationship with finance. He refers to the “purists” who “like to ignore such vulgar considerations, convinced for example that the GAA has piles of money to throw around or that it should not try to get a fair price for it broadcast rights.”

This is symptomatic of the remarkable turnaround where a GAA that was once in the pillory for being too slow and conservative in chasing these commercial opportunities, not least in the area of broadcasting, is now accused of being too liberal and cavalier. So you have the unusual sight of a GAA Director General’s report criticising the “purists” when not too long ago the GAA was in the dock for being exactly that - purists, dinosaurs, and so on.

“The GAA has to meet the financial challenge, of among many other things, improving provincial, county and club grounds and facilities,” explained Duffy, rebuffing claims that their major commercial deals are contaminating the GAA soul.

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