GAA 'swimming against the tide' on amateurism
Solution to problem that ‘strikes at heart’ of Association remains far away as Duffy admits his 2010 initiative ‘failed’
The 'Anglo-Celt' newspaper recently revisited the thorny old subject of 'outside' managers taking charge of club teams within Cavan.
Having conducted a similar exercise in 2011, when they established that 31 of the 40 clubs went outside their own pool, the paper's sports editor Paul Fitzpatrick returned to find that the number looks likely to nudge up slightly for 2018 with, by his count, only eight clubs choosing from within this season.
Seven years ago the previous research was accompanied by a quote from then Cavan chairman Tom O'Reilly who stated his belief that Croke Park would bring in a rule determining that managers must be club members.
O'Reilly did not imply that outside managers were being paid anything above the expenses that they would be entitled to but he contended that such money would be better applied elsewhere in clubs.
"Basically, it's a joke. It has to stop," said O'Reilly. "People in clubs who want glory at all costs have to face up to reality."
It was interesting to refer to that 'Celt' survey in the context of Páraic Duffy's 11th and final report to GAA Congress where the topic of the association's amateur status was revisited. Duffy believes the problem is even greater now than it was when he first raised it in 2010 and then, later in the year, published a paper on the topic that discussed various scenarios, including the proposition that managers be recompensed for the work that they do.
In his last report, Duffy yesterday lamented the absence of proper debate at the time and how the initiative "simply failed".
Seven years on, he sees a deterioration. "Many county-team and club-team managers are not being rewarded financially (beyond, that is, the legitimate expenses they receive for carrying out their function)," he writes.
"The most significant development since 2010, in my view, is that an increasing number of irregular payments are now being made at club level. Such payments strike at the heart of the origins and relevance of the Association's amateur and volunteer ethos."
So what's to be done about it? Duffy didn't offer his successor any roadmap in that regard and revealed that the GAA's Management Committee were looking at ways to tighten the rules around amateurism. But how?
In the seven years since his previous report was published the scale of spending on inter-county teams has risen almost 30 per cent to around €25 million in 2017, commercial and media revenues have soared centrally while the inter-county players' body reached a new agreement in 2016 that was worth €6.9m to their members. Again, professionalism is not being implied here but in the customary press conference to launch the report Duffy acknowledged a culture that left the GAA "swimming against the tide".
"It's down to the members of the GAA to decide what sort of an association they want in the future. I know this is really tough because we are swimming against the tide here. Sport is all about professionalism, the sports we read about every day in the newspaper, soccer, rugby, American sports, whatever. It's all about professionalism and getting paid. Money rules so it's difficult," he said.
"But if you want to retain that position, you have to fight to retain it. It's not about rules and regulations. It's about the association coming to a position in keeping with our amateur status. If you don't like them, why not change the rules on amateur status and say we're not amateur. We're semi-professional.
"I don't believe anyone in the GAA wants to go there but if you want to remain amateur you have to do what it takes. It's a cultural change, a state of mind, an attitude - how important amateurism is to us."
In his report, and again afterwards, Duffy stressed that the issue wasn't 'outside' managers but payments being made to them. Admitting there were "obvious merits" to choosing a manager from within a club or county, he also raised concerns.
"Many clubs and counties have benefited, without breaching our amateur-status rules, from the expertise of outside coaches who enjoy coaching/managing but for whom the pathway to the main positions in their own club or county is blocked. We must be clear on the issue here, it is not about availing of the services of 'outsiders,' it is solely about making payments in breach of our amateur-status ethos."
It can be a vicious circle. Not every club has a ready-made stream of managers and coaches to provide stewardship and fresh faces, thus there is a circuit. And on that circuit, many clubs find it difficult to make omelettes without breaking eggs.
"The great difficulty we face is that we are challenging deeply embedded attitudes that inform our behaviour, and that are therefore difficult to change. But we need to find a way to instigate the debate we avoided in 2010."
How can that be achieved? After 10 years, Páraic Duffy was no wiser yesterday and neither, frankly, can anyone else be.