Tuesday 23 January 2018

GAA's fight against secret payments a huge waste of time

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

THE introduction on the TV3 press release was certainly eye-catching, hinting at the imminent disclosure of sensational revelations which would rock the GAA to its core and leave five counties facing the rigour and wrath of the Croke Park authorities.

"For immediate release: Five county boards have paid managers more than legitimate expenses", ran the tantalising heading on an email flashed out minutes before the report was due to be broadcast on the station's evening news last Wednesday.

It claimed that "high-ranking officials from five county boards have admitted that their boards have made payments to senior managers that break GAA rules and could also potentially have serious consequences with the Revenue Commissioners".

Were we about to be presented with a defining moment in GAA history, one where names, dates and payment amounts would be laid out in graphic detail, complete with on-the-record statements by officials coming clean about illegal payments to team managers?

If so, it would have been one of the great sports exclusives of modern times, leaving many interested parties -- both at official GAA level and in the journalistic community -- who have tried for years to find proof of illegal payments to managers gaping in awe at TV3's investigative powers.


Sadly, the reality was somewhat different. TV3 informed us that unidentified officials (no rank was given) in five unidentified counties had admitted to knowledge of illegal payments to unidentified managers. Of the 32 unidentified officials questioned, 21 believe that illegal payments are being made in some counties.

Good luck to TV3. They wrapped old, unsubstantiated evidence, which has been readily available all over the country for years, in new packaging and tried to present it as something substantial. However, since none of the parties were identified, it added nothing to advance the case for proving dodgy managerial dealings.

And therein rests the quandary, assuming of course that you believe that paying inter-county managers more that the stipulated expenses is a serious problem for the GAA. Actually, many people don't anymore.

It's certainly breaking the rules as they stand, but since there's no way of preventing it -- except by banning managers from working outside their native county or club -- wasting time in pursuing allegations which will never really lead anywhere is pointless.

It has always been GAA members themselves -- whether at county or club level -- who break the rules by making illegal payments. And since flying them to Guantanamo Bay for a 'water-boarding' session would be about the only way to persuade them to admit to anything, it seems like a total waste of time holding investigations.

The GAA's top brass has tried it often enough without ever getting anywhere. Former GAA president, Peter Quinn, suggested that since the GAA is a community-based organisation, one way of ending illegal payments to managers would be to stop them operating outside their own localities.

It would certainly end the practice but at what cost in sporting terms? How could it make sense to prevent inter-county managers with vast reservoirs of experience and expertise from using it outside their own counties?

The uplift a high-profile outside manager brings to another county can be incalculable, not just among players but also with the general public. For instance, if a restriction were in place, Mick O'Dwyer would have been out of inter-county management since 1989 when he ended his 15-season stint with Kerry.

Instead, he is now in his 18th year on his travels through Kildare, Laois and Wicklow, all of whom benefited enormously from his particular brand of magic.

Kildare won a Leinster title under him, having gone 42 years since their previous success; he presided over Laois as they successfully bridged a 57-year gap in Leinster while Wicklow have enjoyed some of their best championship days over the last few years.

Those results are the bare outline of what O'Dwyer achieved in each of the three counties, all of whom enjoyed a major surge in interest when he arrived.

There are several other examples of outside managers who enjoyed success away from their native counties, including John O'Mahony (Galway and Leitrim), John Maughan (Clare), Eugene McGee and Tommy Lyons (Offaly), Paidi O Se (Westmeath), Martin McHugh (Cavan), Eamonn Cregan and Michael Bond (Offaly) and Justin McCarthy (Waterford).

If managers were barred from crossing boundaries, it would prevent many outstanding talents from getting the opportunity to work with county teams. Either that or they could do it for a short while only before dropping out of the elite zone, which would scarcely benefit anybody.

As for the theory that they would return to their local club scene, it's most unlikely that it would happen, certainly not on a widespread level. No, the solution is not to attempt a counter-productive regulation of the managerial market on a county-of-birth basis, but rather to accept that the scene has changed so dramatically that a totally new approach is required.

And yes, that may involve making official payments to inter-county managers. Millions of euro are spent every year on paying full-time administrative staff and coaches, yet any suggestion that the most instantly recognisable person in a county should be paid is rejected at official level.

Why? Inter-county management has now become so demanding that it's virtually a full-time job. Most managers will tell you that they can spend up to 30 hours a week involved in some capacity. That's a remarkable level of dedication and since it's undertaken at the high end of the market, where a manager's career lives or dies on results, it seems fair that he should be recompensed for at least part of his time.

As for claims that players would revolt if their manager were paid while they weren't, that's unlikely since they recognise that the manager's overall workload is far greater than theirs. Besides, former Dublin footballer Senan Connell made a good point during the week when he said that all players want is the right man in charge and once that's in place they really don't care about the details of his deal.

Another anomaly in the current system centres on the different approach by counties. Cork (hurling and football), Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone, Meath, Derry (football), Kilkenny, Tipperary (hurling) are high-profile counties which have never used outside managers. It's also safe to assume that none of their managers were paid in any form.

Imagine, for instance, if Brian Cody quit Kilkenny and made himself available on the 'transfer' market. Several counties would be delighted to put attractive packages together to lure him in their direction. Suffice to say, he would be much better off financially than if he stayed and went on to win 10 All-Irelands in a row with Kilkenny.

Money isn't a consideration for Cody but his case highlights the anomalies that arise, even in such a small country as Ireland. Whatever the merits of a carefully controlled payment system for inter-county managers, it's most unlikely to come onto the GAA agenda in the foreseeable future.

Instead, an unregulated market will continue to apply, where some managers are paid and others are not. There will be regular 'exclusives' about how the rules are being broken, how the Revenue Commissioners are directing their beady eyes in the GAA's direction and how unnamed officials admit the truth, once it's not attributed to them of course.

In the end, it comes down to this: counties (and indeed clubs) will do whatever they can to achieve success and if that involves paying a manager more than approved expenses, it will continue for as long as the import keeps the dream alive.

It has been happening for years, leaving the GAA with three options: ignore it and concentrate on issues which can actually be controlled; pursue it vigorously even if there's no hope of eradicating it; or regularise payments to managers.

Option one is probably the most sensible for now while option three will strengthen its case over the next few years. As for option two, which has been the GAA's policy for many years, it's a complete waste of time and energy.

Irish Independent

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