Our perception of county boards are inevitably dominated by what goes on in our own county.
We know, and generally want to know, nothing of what goes on elsewhere. Except when a situation arises that commands some national attention. Otherwise, the machinations and chicanery of internal GAA politics remain a happy mystery.
In Dublin, we have a silent Don. He sits at the head of a huge, but somehow tightly run operation. There’s a lot to be said for it. Whatever political unrest there is obviously gets sorted out somewhere behind locked doors and drawn curtains.
Nobody goes public giving out about the county board. There is, as far as I’m aware, no bloodletting at annual convention. No ‘Hunger Games’-style elections for office.
To me, given the scale of the operation and the number of potentially competing interests, that seems like a minor miracle.
It’s not that Dublin is some administrative Shangri-La. There are always gripes; about fixtures and pitches and referees and suspensions and whatever else. Of course there are.
But when it comes to the big picture, the membership generally accept that the executive have the best interests of Dublin GAA at the core of their decision-making and that they possess sufficient leadership and expertise to do so in a progressive way.
That’s clearly not a given in every county. Some of the things you hear would make you wonder.
I read Kevin McStay’s story about taking a phone call once from someone linked to the Kildare County Board to find out if he would be interested in going forward for the senior football manager’s job a few years back.
When he replied that he would, he was informed that the new manager had already been decided (spoiler alert: it wasn’t him) and that the phone call was just so the board could say they had contacted all the nominated parties.
Mayo are another county who have had their issues over recent years at county board level. Whether it was any more or less disruptive than other counties is impossible to say from the outside.
But for whatever reason, much of it seems to have played out in the public domain.
After a decade of strife and strikes, the war in Cork is over and it’s hardly a coincidence that they’ve started winning All-Irelands at underage again.
I’m told that GAA administration in Kerry is an intensely political landscape, but there’s a difference. Everybody is already facing the one direction.
No-one goes to convention arguing the toss that football is over-prioritised. Nobody is saying they need to roll back spending on the county team. They might have the odd row over the method of appointing a captain. But they appreciate the central function of the board.
Every chairman wants to be able to bring Sam Maguire to his club’s dinner dance.
Now, it’s important to point something out here: administration is arduous. A drain on one of our most increasingly scant resources: time
It’s thankless. It requires commitment and dedication. And generally, people do it for the right reasons. No-one should forget that, even if we all do.
But when the board as an entity negatively affects one of its own primary functions, to further standards of Gaelic football and/or hurling in a county, something has gone awry.
What a damaging couple of weeks it has been for Donegal GAA in that regard.
With the Karl Lacey saga still hanging in the air and the senior football team struggling in Division 1, Jim McGuinness came bounding in with his story on a podcast this week.
For those who haven’t heard or read it, McGuinness claimed he had offered to be part of a new Donegal management team after Declan Bonner stood down. Not as manager, mind, but in some unspecified coaching role.
Initially, that would have been under Rory Kavanagh. But the offer remained even after Kavanagh removed himself from the running. According to McGuinness, he never heard another word from the board after that.
Without so much as a grain of knowledge about the scene in Donegal, I find it utterly baffling that one of the only two All-Ireland-winning managers in the county’s history could be disregarded in such a way.
And I can’t make neither head nor tail of the Lacey situation either. Partly because of the vague explanation of the saga by the Donegal board.
There seems to be an acceptance, even from the board, that Lacey was doing a good job. The academy had direction and organisation and the results were being seen on the pitch.
They were running a high-performing operation, mostly through volunteer coaching.
Maybe this is my player-bias coming out here, but I can’t see what could be more important than that. What is the purpose of an academy if not to improve elite players, individually and collectively, in the county?
Now clearly something wasn’t right.
Lacey, apparently, sought to have a liaison between himself and the county board appointed. That’s never a good sign. Nor is a request for mediation.
So very possibly, the arrangement was doomed from the start. But if the board were so keen on governance guidelines, surely setting down and agreeing them with Lacey in advance of his work beginning would have been a good idea?
McGuinness also claimed that Michael Murphy had been willing to be involved in one of the Donegal underage teams. That isn’t happening now.
At the risk of over-simplification of the situation; McGuinness, Lacey, Kavanagh and Murphy were all interested and available to help Donegal football in different guises this year but, for one reason or another, none of them are.
They are outside the tent looking in. Why?
These kind of disputes tend to sink into a blame game. But really, the reasons are unimportant.
These are big characters. Huge figures. No county has enough expertise and experience that they can thrive without the help of people like that.
I know McGuinness had his issues with the county board in the past. He was overlooked for the job when, infamously, they couldn’t find a working projector so he could make his pitch.
But we’re dealing with too many people involved here for it to be a simple clash of personalities. It’s a glib thing to say, but there are no winners here and, clearly, Donegal football is the big loser.
People can make their own assessment but I know which side of the dispute I’d fall on.