Thursday 22 February 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Derek McGrath's story should serve as a warning sign to the rest of us

It's a measure of where the game is at that Déise boss feels he can't manage and teach at same time - but paying managers is not the answer
Derek McGrath is stepping away from teaching to concentrate on his role as Waterford
manager. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Derek McGrath is stepping away from teaching to concentrate on his role as Waterford manager. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tomas Ó Sé

Fair play to Derek McGrath. In the GAA sometimes we can be slow to speak plainly on things we're not quite comfortable with. And the issue of professionalism, payments and demands on those involved in the inter-county game certainly fall into that category.

McGrath wasn't worried about any of that when he told us this week he'd stepped away from teaching so he could give managing Waterford all the time it required.

It's almost a taboo in the GAA to admit your life is consumed by managing or playing but he had the balls to say it outright. I admire his honesty and his dedication.

But it should serve as a warning sign to the rest of us.

You see, I already think we are at breaking point. How much further can we honestly push this 'professional amateurs' status we have in the GAA without going too far? Being honest, I think those lines are already blurred. I think we're on the brink already and we probably have been for some time.

When you see lads using their own holidays to go away on some training camp along with doing some sort of training pretty much every day as well as run their lives away from the GAA, you know we have gone far enough. I watched Michael Murphy and Lee Chin, two specimens of men, telling wide-eyed professionals they don't get paid for what they do on that 'Toughest Trade' show. That's when you know we are at tipping point.

Now, McGrath's position is not a new thing by any means but he has shone a light on a place we don't like to go.

I remember Páidí when I first came in with Kerry back in 1997. He left this phone bill out on the table one day and I saw it. I called his attention to it because I thought he was getting scammed. It was for £900. Then I saw another for just over £800. This was in the late '90s and he was managing us. Páidí would have the phone welded to his ear for the day before going to train the team that night because at that stage a manager had to do everything from organising pitches to food to booking physios and doctors.

It was a full-time job but he could do it because he had a business at home that his wife would run for him. Honestly, had his circumstances been different, I'm not sure he could have managed it. And that's 20 years ago now.

But McGrath's story should jolt the rest of us awake. Teaching and the GAA have long been seen as bedfellows. And why wouldn't they? Shorter working days and summers off, they suited each other perfectly.

I'm a primary teacher. I didn't choose teaching because of football but I'm glad I did now. If I had a 9-5, I'm not sure I could have stayed going for as long as I did or been as successful. I used to get home from school and get some food into me and be on the road for Killarney by 4.30pm for training.

That gave me time to get a rub-down and get the ankles strapped and be one of the first on the field. I liked it that way. It never suited me to be rushing. I saw the other side of it too with Killian Burns. He moved to Dublin and was working in PR. He was always be on the clock. I've no doubt his particular circumstances shortened his playing career.

Derek is slightly different at secondary level where there's pressure with state exams and the like. But still that he decided he can't mix his teaching career, where there's a couple of months off every year, with life at the sharp end of things in the GAA. To me, that's a warning flag. What if employers of GAA managers who have 9-5s around the country start wondering whether they are getting bang for their buck from their employees? We'd be in trouble.

So it brings about the question why not pay the managers? It's rife at club scene and it's happening at county level too so why not formalise it.

I think that's a terrible idea. It opens up too many questions. Where would the payments start and stop? Would the GAA get involved financially? Could county boards afford them? And what would the knock-on effect be for the provision of coaching and facilities around the country? And would it leave the players having their hand out for some sort of recognition?

As far as the players are concerned, the pie just isn't big enough to look after everyone. And I'm glad it's not because our club scene would be destroyed if counties had even more of a call on their players than they do now. If that happened I could see the clubs feeling alienated and cut adrift, the association would effectively devour itself from the inside out. It sounds drastic but clubs need to be more central to the organisation, not more peripheral. Paying managers would have a similarly negative effect. As professionals, they would come under even more pressure to deliver results. And that in turn would trickle down to players who are already at breaking point. You'd be nearly taking the fun out of it at that stage. And if we lose that, well…

I don't really like what paying managers has done to the club scene. That circuit is awash with mercenaries and cash. Straight up, I was offered €200 a night by one club to take their team not too long ago. Another crowd had €150 a night on the table. And there's no controlling this because it's all cash and all under the table. But I'm not sure firing such money at coaches is the best way clubs could spend their money. This organisation works because the majority of money generated goes back into to making it stronger. We should never lose sight of that.

Look, people will say it's fine for me getting a few quid for writing a newspaper column about why it's wouldn't work to pay managers. I can see the irony in it.

And I'm aware that there's loads of great players who had brilliant careers who never get any benefit out of what they have given. But that doesn't mean we should shy away from the issue. Look, we hold our amateur status up as one of the defining pillars of our organisation. We're proud of it. As clichéd as it is to say it, it's what makes us special and unique. Our superstars are local and tangible and real for the next generation. In Dingle, you might meet Paul Geaney. In Dublin, there's Bernard Brogan and down in Waterford you'll see Austin Gleeson. It's the same everywhere.

No one else on the island can offer the access to the big names to kids that we can. And that's what ensures we have a future. And you can't place a value on that.

Irish Independent

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