Friday 15 December 2017

Imports add insult to penury

Eamonn Sweeney

A couple of weeks back Vincent Browne was quizzing some gimp from the Irish Exporters' Association who thinks the national minimum wage is too high. So Browne asks your man, "Could you live on 7.60 an hour," and the reply is, "I couldn't but that's not the issue."

If confronted by someone who's struggling and wonders why they should take a cut to wages which are a paltry fraction of what he earns, Gimpy's basic argument would be, "Because I'm special and you're only a bollocks." He might not put it in those words exactly but that's what it boils down to.

Similarly, people who are struggling to keep their head above water might wonder why former AIB managing director Colm Doherty was paid €3m for 11 months' work when, to the untrained eye, it might appear that he hadn't exactly covered himself in glory. If one of us plebs managed to corner Mr Doherty in his mansion, what would be his answer be? Yep. "Because I'm special and you're only a bollocks."

Because I'm special and you're only a bollocks. It could be the motto of the bankers, the developers and their political cronies who have propelled the country down the road to ruin at a speed Lewis Hamilton would envy. You could put it on a little coat of arms and hang it over their fireplaces.

Nothing has done more damage to national morale than this notion that there is a special class of people, smart ballsy guys who don't have to abide by the same rules as the rest of us. Why not? Because . . . you know the rest. It's a wonder they didn't emblazon it on the side of the ministerial cars. If there was ever an attitude which should have had its day, it's this one. Yet those misguided souls who are arguing that inter-county managers should be paid are asking the GAA to enshrine this attitude in its rules.

Because if inter-county players, who have been told that pay for play would destroy the Association, who have been refused a cut of the lucrative television rights and sponsorship deals negotiated by the GAA on the back of their efforts, who have even seen the money squeezed by the GPA out of the Irish Sports Council cut so severely as to become a mere token, have to flog their guts out for managers who are being given big salaries by the county boards, they might want to ask the boss why.

And there's only one reason he could give them. "Because I'm special and you're only a bollocks."

The deployment of a cadre of professional managers in a sport played by amateurs makes a nonsense of the egalitarian and democratic nature of the GAA which is the Association's greatest strength. And, to his credit, the outgoing president Christy Cooney knows that. That's why he came out so strongly against the payment of managers in his final speech to Congress.

"This is a cancer running through our organisation," said Cooney, "which is nurtured and supported by poor or complete abdication of leadership and sometimes carefully orchestrated through supporters' clubs or so-called friends of the GAA, people very often with an interest in the realisation of short-term goals only and no interest in or understanding of our rules and regulations. What is the point of our so-called voluntary ethos and our amateur status? Why are we in denial? Why do we proclaim our values and then fail to deliver? It is time to stand up and be counted."

Christy Cooney has been an immensely impressive GAA president. He put an end to years of pussyfooting by recognising the GPA, he made the hugely important gesture of carrying Ronan Kerr's coffin, he has spoken intelligently about the issues facing the Association while, equally importantly, resisting the temptation to talk when he had nothing to say.

But if his Congress speech manages to get the GAA to face up to the mockery being made of the Association's ethos by the payment of managers, it might be Cooney's greatest legacy. Because there is something obscene about the fact that counties are forking out big money to high-profile outside managers at a time when many of their players are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet.

Even before paying managers became a fad, the record of imported managers wasn't very good. You have to go back to 2001 for the last time a non-native boss won an All-Ireland football title, John O'Mahony working the oracle for Galway that year. In fact, if you leave O'Mahony out of it, from 1999 to 2010 only one outside manager has even brought a team to a final. In hurling, the stats are even less impressive. Michael Bond, in 1998 with Offaly, is the last outside manager to win a Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Yet the notion that a big-name boss can be parachuted in to achieve miracles persists despite the evidence to the contrary furnished in recent years by some high profile catastrophic misfires in football and hurling. In many cases, the counties involved would have been better off looking for home-grown expertise. Instead they ended up with the worst foreign interventions since the South Vietnamese government decided they needed a few Yanks about the place.

The outside manager fetish -- which is not to be confused entirely with the payment fetish -- provides us with such entertaining absurdities as Meath deciding that they need to bring in the famous winning mentality of Monaghan and a county with the tradition of Galway appointing Tomás ó Flatharta, whose main achievement as Westmeath manager was . . . (hang on, I must look this up) . . . whose main achievement as Westmeath manager was finding the dugout and not tripping on the way back to the dressing rooms.

Meanwhile, the likes of Down and Roscommon were richly rewarded last year for having the gumption to stick with their own.

Of course, counties are perfectly entitled to choose an outside manager. But the problem is that these decisions fuel the campaign for the professionalising of inter-county management which is being led by the likes of Tipperary County Board chairman Barry O'Brien.

O'Brien's statement last week that "instead of pushing things under the table, it is time we came out front, do it straight and do it the right way. We have to bring a modern solution to it," is the kind of spiel which looks reasonable until you think about it for, oh, five seconds. It's the old 'everyone is doing it anyway' argument. But if people are cheating the system, it doesn't follow that the solution is to change the system. You could always try to stop the cheating instead.

The Tipp chairman's argument is like saying that because political corruption is rife, you might as well make it legal. I can think of a certain former Tipperary GAA official who might think this is a great idea but he'd be in the minority.

Note also the use of the word 'modern'. It's a sad fact of Irish life that if someone invokes modernity or progress as a reason for doing something, their arguments are probably going to be nonsense. It's not long since it was all the rage in certain counties to argue that historic county grounds should be sold to developers who would then build new stadiums somewhere out on the bypass. That was apparently the 'modern solution'. And if it had been adopted, more than one county ground would currently be occupied by a ghost estate built by a developer who hadn't enough money left to build a plasticine dog let alone a new GAA stadium.

In fairness to Barry O'Brien, his suggestion that managers could earn their pay by doubling as games development officers within a county would seem to arise out of the particular circumstances in Tipp football where John Evans has done fine work at underage level. But it's very easy to see how less scrupulous counties would treat such an arrangement as a mere smokescreen. The big-money managers aren't taking these jobs to be coaching under 12 teams in their spare time. In any event if that money is available for a development officer why not give it to an ex-player from within the county? Or why not spend it on creating coaching positions for unemployed players? And perhaps it's precisely because they don't have confidence in their own ability to solve their own problems that the weak counties stay weak.

One point on which Cooney and O'Brien are in agreement is that the time has come to stop sweeping this issue under the carpet. Because in the past the GAA's response to the issue of payment to inter-county managers has been to say that it's impossible to prove that anyone is getting any money. Now, it may be the case that there isn't the kind of evidence which would stand up in court. But the GAA is not the government, it shouldn't need ten-year tribunals before it can point the finger.

We all know that there are certain managers who are being paid and most of us could name a few of them. But what's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. If pay for play is wrong, so is pay for manage. Or else we're making a couple of the mistakes which characterised the Tiger era. One is that people at the top deserve special consideration and the other is that only money can motivate people to produce their best efforts. The idea that a county can only find success by paying out big bucks is a cousin of that old Tiger mantra that 'if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.' But as we now know, you can shell out a lot of gold and end up with a prize pack of baboons.

This pay-for-manage blight is also having a corrosive effect at club level. I only had to walk down the street this morning to meet a former county player who was recently offered money to manage a senior team. He turned it down because he'd prefer to work at underage level with his own club. But another outsider has taken the job since and is presumably collecting the shekels. The contagion has spread to such an extent that you hear about junior teams who wouldn't win a county title if they had Jose Mourinho in charge giving a few hundred a week to managers who move from one club to another offering their services.

The problem is that at local level it's the club lotto which is paying for such largesse. And times are hard now. Hard enough for people to start resenting buying tickets to put money in the pocket of some fly-by-night from outside the parish, money which might be better used preventing some young player from having to emigrate. It's not good for those clubs and it's not good for the GAA as a whole.

Managers shouldn't be paid because it's against the ethos of the GAA. But they also shouldn't be paid because it is an insult to players. As one GAA man commented to me, some clubs are quicker paying a manager than they are about settling a player's physio bill.

Either the GAA is an amateur organisation or it's not. And if there's money there for the general there should be money there for the soldiers. Because it's hard enough work being an inter-county player without being told you're a bollocks.

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