Saturday 18 November 2017

GAA struggle to close Gooch 'testimonial' loophole

Former Kerry star Colm Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile
Former Kerry star Colm Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

GAA chiefs face a losing battle in their attempts to block future testimonial dinners similar to the one arranged by former Kerry star Colm Cooper.

The 'Gooch' has broken the mould by arranging a gala bash at the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge on October 27 - and Croke Park top brass may be powerless to stop repeat events.

Top-ranking officials have been told that they should have informed Cooper when he approached them that he was not allowed to hold the function, which could be attended by up to 500 people. But by giving the five-time All-Ireland medallist the green light, a legal precedent has effectively been set, and the floodgates could open with leading hurlers and footballers set to follow Cooper's lead.

Carte blanche

A former GAA president contacted by the Irish Independent, who did not wish to be named, insisted last night that the current power-brokers should have insisted on Cooper not going ahead with his testimonial. Instead, he explained, they have now given current and retired players thinking of holding their own events carte blanche to push ahead.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio 1 presenter Sean O'Rourke yesterday, GAA director general Páraic Duffy conceded that legal advice had been sought when Cooper sought to clarify his position, but the feedback given was that the Dr Crokes clubman was not breaking any Association rules.

Duffy said: "Do we need to look at it? Yes. We will look at it. It's tricky because our current rules don't allow us to deal with it. But I think we need to look at the rules."

Duffy added that the GAA would not, and will not, support Cooper's testimonial, which is also a partial fundraiser for Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, and Kerry Cancer Support Group.

Cooper will also scoop a share of the profits and the matter has split public opinion.

Duffy made it clear where he stood on the issue, revealing: "The first thing I said was, 'Colm, I've got a concern about how this might impact on your amateur status and our rules.'"

The Monaghan man, who will step downas director-general next March, described the conversation between the pair as "affable" and, after seeking legal advice, he spoke with Cooper again.

He told him: "If you want to go ahead with this, you will not be suspended, there cannot be a charge levelled against you, which was my initial concern. But I said, 'are you sure you're doing the right thing here?' I did say to him that the GAA would not be supporting it, and we're not supporting it."

Duffy admitted that "very little" progress has been made on under-the-counter payments to managers, particularly at club level.

He said: "It still goes on - there's an industry there. I found it impossible to get to the bottom of it. I think there has been a tendency in the GAA to turn a blind eye to it.

"In fairness, I'd say a lot of inter-county managers are not being paid. I'd say the most successful managers are not being paid but are people being paid expenses over and above what they should be? I'd say yes. Can we prove it? No."

Duffy also addressed the issue of cynicism in the GAA, and he was asked specifically about the closing minutes of Dublin's All-Ireland senior football final victory over Mayo.

Duffy conceded: "That wasn't pretty and it was a pity because Dublin are the most attractive football team to watch that I can remember - the way they play the game, the speed in which the play.

"That wasn't good and I think most Dublin supporters would accept that too. That's an issue we have to look at but there's no obvious, easy solution. You would hope that wouldn't become the norm, we can't let it become the norm."

Duffy also rejected the suggestion that Dublin have become an unstoppable juggernaut driven by financial power.

He countered: "The reasons why Dublin are successful are primarily because they have a fantastic manager in Jim Gavin.

"The idea of splitting Dublin in three, two, or four or five, would be utterly damaging for the GAA. A lot of counties need to learn from Dublin."

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