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GAA split over payments controversy


GAA President Christy Cooney

GAA President Christy Cooney

GAA President Christy Cooney

IT was to be expected that some counties would leap behind a wall of silence when queried about 'illegal' payments to managers, but we had to ask anyway.

What we didn't anticipate was that so many would hunker down with their hands over their ears.

One-third of county chairmen chose not to respond to our survey, while some others didn't answer all of the five questions, but it was still a very worthwhile exercise.

At the very least, it proved that there's a great deal of reluctance to discuss managerial payments, the shadowy world which has generated huge controversy for over 20 years. It still continues to be of major concern to the GAA's power-brokers, who believe that the rules on amateurism are being broken both at county and club level.

We were surprised by the failure of so many counties to reply to five straightforward questions. Suffice to say, it's curious that the 'no comment' lobby was so large -- after all, they weren't being asked for their innermost secrets.

Still, two-thirds were happy to take part, providing an interesting range of trends.

A summary of those who did reply shows the following:

* Few agree with Christy Cooney's comment that 'illegal' payments are "a cancer running through our organisation."

* Counties are not only keen to emphasise how tidy their own house is when it comes to amateur status, they don't want to comment on the cleaning arrangements elsewhere either.

* There's a feeling that the time may be right to consider paying county team managers more than the basic expenses currently allowed.

The latter is the most interesting finding, suggesting that there's a growing realisation that the workload carried by county managers has reached such demanding levels that they need to be financially compensated.

Offaly chairman Pat Teehan said that while he would have been totally opposed to any extra payments up to recently, he now held the view that the amount of work put in by managers away from training sessions and match days deserved financial recognition.

"Not huge sums, but I think they need some recompense," he said.

Westmeath's Tom Farrell offered a broadly similar view and pointed to the clear anomaly whereby trainers, physios and assorted others can be paid for their services, yet managers are entitled to basic expenses only.

"I'm not sure the current expenses cover what managers do any longer," said Farrell.

He raises an interesting point, as it appears totally illogical to pay members of the back-room team who have been hired by the manager, while he has to remain within the official expenses norms.

Wexford's Diarmuid Devereux believes it's time the GAA had an open debate on paying managers more than basic expenses. He cites examples of team managers giving huge amounts of time to the job, and contends that they shouldn't be out of pocket in any way.

Michael Fahey (Roscommon) and Joe Flynn (Leitrim) also referred to the huge amount of time put in by team managers.

"It's basically a full-time job," said Fahey, who is keen to ensure that while managers are not in breach of the amateur status rule, they are properly acknowledged for the amount of work they put in. Flynn believes that in order to retain the highest quality managers, some form of extra reward may become necessary.

Tom Cunningham (Waterford) favours paying managers more than regulation expenses, but fears that it could be abused. However, he has no doubt about the value of bringing in outside help.

"If you want success, you should be encouraging outside managers," he said.

However others remain implacably opposed to any change in the status quo. Kerry chairman Patrick O'Sullivan believes that managers should be paid no more expenses than players or officials.

"Time is important to everybody. Players or officials don't get paid, so why should managers?" he said.

Longford's Pat Cahill is also opposed to moving managers up the financial pecking order, pointing out that many others also put in long hours too and don't expect any return.

He also argues that paying managers would add another financial burden at a time when resources are scarce and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

He believes that the dip in the economy is self-correcting the market at club level, in particular, with a return to local managers working for free within their own community.

Christy Cooney will probably be surprised to learn that many of the counties' most senior officers don't agree with his assessment that 'illegal' payment to managers is a cancer running through the GAA.

Then again, they could hardly be seen to agree with him and then claim that neither they themselves -- nor anybody they know -- are flouting the rules.

Cooney made the comment in his Congress address last April, but clearly county chairmen don't regard the problem in quite such stark terms.

"It (Cooney's description) was a bit strong," said Wicklow's Mick O'Hagan.

One of the more interesting aspects of the survey was that none of the counties who replied acknowledged that payment to managers was a problem.

Understandably, no county was going to incriminate itself, but the fact that so few were prepared to comment -- for public consumption at least -- about managerial matters elsewhere is most surprising, given the importance of the issue for the paying public.

After all, the GAA president and director general have stated categorically that they believe 'illegal' payments are a major problem.

Previous presidents, extending as far back as Peter Quinn (1991-94) all concerned themselves with allegations of improper payments yet, in 2012, we're told that the majority of county chairmen know nothing of the practice, either in their own counties or beyond.

Therein rests the crux of the issue. Senior Croke Park officials can raise the 'illegal' payments issue as often as they wish but they are most unlikely to ever be in a position to prove a single case, for the simple reason that it's done in the utmost secrecy.

As for whistle-blowers, they're as rare as the dodo in the GAA.