Sport GAA

Friday 20 September 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Honeyed words can't hide fact that GAA is living a lie'

New manifesto reads well but what about illegal payments to managers?

GAA president John Horan at the unveiling of the new GAA manifesto at the St Colmcilles club in Bettystown, Co Meath. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
GAA president John Horan at the unveiling of the new GAA manifesto at the St Colmcilles club in Bettystown, Co Meath. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

How much is the manager of your club team being paid? Nothing? Between €5,000 and €10,000? More than €10,000? You don't know?

In most cases, answer one is wrong and the other three are correct. What proportion of your club membership goes to paying the manager? And when you play the club Lotto, is the manager the only guaranteed winner from the proceeds?

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How much is your county team manager pocketing? And what about his backroom assistants? Counties produce annual accounts and, yes, those figures are included. Not itemised, of course, but under the catch-all heading of team costs, which explains everything and nothing.

Why not more transparency in an area which costs over €20 million per annum nationwide? Probably because the truth would stun ordinary GAA members into forcing a real debate on the direction the Association is taking.

Of course, that's no bad thing, but for some reason there has always been a reluctance among the broader GAA community to seriously address illegal payments.

Crusades

There have been various crusades from presidents and director-generals, who regarded it as their responsibility to uphold the rules, but the rest didn't - and still don't - appear to give a damn.

Not county board officers, who promise to guard amateur status while at the same time either directly paying managers or facilitating payment by wealthy backers.

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Not club officers, who regularly criticise fixture-makers over game scheduling, while having no difficulty handing over up to €150 per training session to an outside manager.

And so the great hypocrisy runs on, gathering pace as it steams towards the inevitability that is some form of semi-professionalism.

Last Monday, the GAA launched a club manifesto, a sort of proclamation, high on idealism and expressions of identity. The words 'place', 'belonging', 'shared values', 'community', 'nurtured', 'legacy' and 'respect' figure prominently through the common theme of being part of something real and substantial.

"OUR GAA - WHERE WE ALL BELONG," it concludes. Inspirational stuff, most of which is indeed a true representation of what the GAA stands for in Irish life. A copy is on its way to every club where members who read it will be impressed. Of course they also know that behind the carefully-chosen words, a lie exists.

Not in all clubs, but in the majority where managers are paid far beyond the expenses permitted by rule. It's not confined to senior teams either.

Club management has long been a lucrative circuit where, bizarrely, payments are often made per training session, rather than a flat fee for the season. It takes no great insight to recognise that a model which encourages quantity will be exploited. Never mind, just sell extra Lotto tickets and run more fundraisers.

The view that outside equals better is depressingly common among GAA clubs. Apparently, the outsider is smarter, especially if he has presided over a title success elsewhere or is perceived to be progressive for unspecified other reasons.

It comes under the cynical definition of an expert as a stranger who talks a good show in a different accent. And if he's clever with the PowerPoint presentations and three-year plans, well sign him up.

Timing is everything too, so if it's December and no manager is in place for the new season, panic sets in. Experienced operators know how to exploit that. The circuit is full of opportunist journeymen managers, who flit from club to club and across county boundaries, happily scooping up cash as they go. It's a way of life, part of their income stream which has to be maintained. Good luck to them if the system is prepared to tolerate it. But what has it to do with the ideals expressed in the new manifesto? It's actually the very opposite to those values.

Páraic Duffy devoted over 1,100 words of his final annual report as director-general to unregulated payments. He referred to a detailed paper on the issue which he circulated in 2010, where he suggested that, given the demands on county managers, consideration should be given to paying them special allowances which would be open and transparent.

He explained the general principle, pointing out that it would bring an end (in most cases at least) to the shadowy practice of under-the-counter deals. He brought it before a meeting of county officers in Croke Park where the following happened.

"Overwhelming support was declared for maintaining our rules on amateurism, but even more obvious was the lack of enthusiasm for any attempt to implement the proposals made in the paper. The initiative simply failed," he wrote.

Duffy acknowledged that nothing had changed since then. And so it goes on. Sham amateurism across much of the managerial world at county and club level, presided over by the same people who help make the rules.

Hypocrisy reigns and no amount of honeyed words in a club manifesto will change that.

Bright idea even if it did go wrong

It may not be to everyone’s liking, but the outfield adventures of Laois football goalkeeper Graham Brody have provided an interesting tactical initiative over recent seasons.

It works off the logical basis that if a goalkeeper advances with the ball, it gives his team a numerical outfield advantage which, in theory at least, should continue all the way to the other end.

Obviously, it’s not that simple. Still, it’s imaginative so Brody and Laois management are to be complimented for trying something different.

Of course there are those who insist that a goalkeeper shouldn’t venture very far from home. Doubtless, they will now claim vindication after a misdirected pass by Brody in last Saturday’s Allianz League Division 3 final presented Westmeath with a chance to counter-attack and score what turned out to be the winning goal, scored by Ger Egan.

It was a rare mistake by Brody and hopefully won’t lead to a rethink by him and Laois as football needs all the  creativity it can get.

Early jolt for club hurling finalists 

If further evidence were needed to support the case for completing the All-Ireland club championships long before St Patrick’s Day, it came last weekend when hurling finalists, Ballyhale Shamrocks and St Thomas’, lost in the first round of their respective county championships.

All-Ireland winners Ballyhale were beaten by Clara in Kilkenny, while St Thomas’ lost to Liam Mellows in what was a repeat of last year’s Galway final.

Both are likely to recover and press on towards defending their county titles, but that’s not the point.

All-Ireland inter-county champions aren’t pressed back into action three weeks after the finals, so why should it be any different for clubs?

There’s a proposal to play the club finals in January from next year on and presumably it will be accepted.

That would be a start, but the ultimate aim should be to complete them pre-Christmas.

Surely that should be possible when county campaigns begin on the first weekend in April?

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