The business of running the GAA

“Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation in their heads.”
The business of running the GAA

The F Scott Fitzgerald aficionados who read this column will recognise this quotation from The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s last work.

The eagle-eyed among those aficionados will note the absence of two crucial words — “in pictures” — from the sentence, though.

The Last Tycoon is about Hollywood and the movie business — don’t forget that word, ‘business’ — but the quotation came to mind earlier this week, when news broke that Páraic Duffy was to step down as director general of the GAA.

The news has led to the usual lists of runners and riders being declared and, as it is a GAA appointment, the usual ulterior motives are being ascribed and detected where none may, in fact, exist.

For instance, why did it take an extra couple of days to confirm Pat Gilroy — seen once as a potential successor to Duffy — as Dublin hurling manager? Was there any significance to that announcement coming when it did? (Yes, of course, according to the conspiracy theorists of the GAA, who are more numerous than one might presume).

Mentioning the likes of Gilroy is an indication of the change in the position, incidentally. There was a time when such a promotion would be seen as a matter of internal advancement rather than external head-hunting, but that time has long since passed.

Which brings us to the thorniest part of finding a replacement for the Monaghan native, because Duffy is probably the last GAA director general to be appointed without having significant experience in private industry.

The preponderance of teachers among his immediate predecessors would make for an interesting thesis for some enterprising master’s student, but in the new GAA universe, is that sufficient? Seeing names like Liam Sheedy, a senior figure in Bank of Ireland when not a

Tipperary player and manager, mentioned as a director general speaks directly to this point.

Even stating the need for a commercially fluent administrator, however, is likely to rub many GAA people up the wrong way. Some of these people harken back to a non-existent pastoral when the association was run on smiles and sunshine, but if that period ever existed in the first place, it ended long ago.

Keeping the GAA successful commercially isn’t an either/or proposition when it comes to the many ongoing horror shows within the organisation, not least of which is the fixtures crisis.

Or cynicism in football. Or under-the-counter payments to managers. Take your pick.

However, it’s combining all those elements — the whole equation — which is the real challenge.

Defending the subventions to Dublin when small counties are cash-strapped, helping the Rugby World Cup bid, signing off on commercial deals; these are all long-term headaches that are travelling on a parallel line with problems appearing out of left field, such as, well, take your pick:

The last couple of weeks alone have provided enough migraines in Croke Park to keep the Solpadeine going intravenously.

Incidentally, the great film critic David Thomson used The Whole Equation — as Fitzgerald used it — as the title of a book a couple of years ago.

In an interview, Thomson said: “The whole equation doesn’t exist — you can’t expect to look it up or find it in your fortune cookie — for truly it is the daily habit of having the right hunches.”

He has a point: The prime requirement for the new director general is a willingness to back his instincts on the big issues, and the little ones.

If this column could make one specific recommendation, it would be to drop the obligatory reference to the ‘clubs being the backbone of the association’, which invariably gets trumpeted by the new president in their first speech in the job.

If the director general has the kind of influence you’d imagine, getting rid of that would be an innovation that would put me firmly in his or her corner.

No reservation for Kerr on Trump hotel

The perennial shelter for the disengaged is that politics and sport don’t mix.

They do, of course, but nobody wants to discuss how. Anyway, I noted last week that politics, sports and business certainly mix.

It emerged that US sports teams have shaken up their hotel game considerably by... not staying in hotels owned by Donald Trump.

According to the Washington Post, 17 teams across the major professional leagues were inclined to stay in the Trump Soho hotel when they played in New York; now only one of those teams stays there regularly.

There’s some nuance here: Some of the teams referred to logistical reasons for their hotel switch, saying it was difficult to get team buses in and out of the hotels.

Credit is due, then, to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr:

“He [Trump] continually offends people, and so people don’t want to stay at his hotel. It’s pretty simple.”

(The relative politicisation of professional basketball players as against baseball players is something we may revisit later, perhaps, with a view to seeing an Irish parallel.)

By the way, if you fancy staying in the Trump Soho, two eggs “any style” and cup of coffee will set you back $38, or about €32. Maybe, political disagreements aren’t the only concerns the players have.

Amis treat

I’ll be off to the bookshop shortly to collect a good one. Why? Try this.

“Then, too, there are frequent glints of what one might call exceptionalism or low-level megalomania.

"Maradona routinely refers to himself in the third person, not just as Maradona . . . but also as El Diego ‘Because I am El Diego. I too call myself that: El Diego.”

Excerpts like this are one of the many reasons I plan on picking up The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump and Other Pieces, 1986-2016, by Martin Amis.

Presumably the Maradona reference comes in the same piece in which Amis refers to a “nicely implausible” report of Argentina manager Carlos Bilardo saying “Leave it out, Diego” (in best Terry McCann accent, hopefully).

Looking forward to finding out.

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