BRENDAN O'BRIEN: Paying managers could have a big impact on fixtures list

It’s so often inter-county managers who put the foot down over club fixtures and the release of players, writes Brendan O’Brien.

You could listen to Liam Griffin talk all day.

The former Wexford manager was on the radio this week in his role as fixtures coordinator for the Club Players Association. The logic of his ideas and passion for the native games were like rays of sunshine bursting through the dark clouds that hang over the whole club v county mess.

GAA director general Pauric Duffy is an interesting character, too. A practical man, he came quickly to the conclusion in his early years as a GAA administrator you don’t bite off more than you can chew when seeking change, but it was impossible to fault Griffin’s frustration when he bemoaned the itty bitty manner in which Duffy and the GAA have gone about restructuring the football and hurling championships.

Never mind the clubs.

The entire playing schedule is like an old car hauled in and out of the garage for endless repairs. A new fan belt here, a change of brake pads there, a wonky exhaust pipe somewhere else. There comes a time when a car has simply had its day and the GAA’s fixture calendar has long since passed the stage where it would pass an NCT.

It’s time to take something brand new out for a test drive. Everywhere you look, the GAA is indulging in nips and tucks like some ageing Hollywood bombshell in an advanced state of denial. The playing rules are being constantly tweaked, one at a time. If it isn’t the black card then it’s the mark. Likewise with the even more complicated debate that surrounds the lauded amateur status.

We’ve written here before about the inevitability of professionalism based on, among a whole let more, the examples of rugby and Australian Rules and the fact that engaging so enthusiastically with TV and sponsorship made the end of their amateur traditions inevitable. The trajectory of the association this past 25 years is proof it has already taken a good chunk out of that particular journey. The size of the full-time staff in Croke Park has grown steadily, so too the numbers of permanent employees in the provinces. The counties have inevitably followed suit with full-time secretaries replacing volunteers in some units and Dublin going as far as to have a man in place, the impressively capable John Costello, whom they call a CEO instead.

It’s a situation that has bred an obvious disconnect with the people who stand in the gate at church collections and wash jerseys in their own homes and the calls by John Mullane this week to embrace transparency and pay inter-county managers an honest and fair wage for their services is, unfortunately, another example of the whack-a-mole approach to all their ills.

Two points need stating here. The first is that this is what traditionalists would call another raising of the gradient that we like to call the slippery slope. Mullane suggests players would have no truck with managers being paid, they would be happy to put in seven-day weeks and all that work for some mileage and a chicken curry while the man standing on the sideline is having his mortgage paid.

As if. Pay-for-play wouldn’t be far behind. The second point is inter-county managers already hold an enormous wedge of ower. And it is so often inter-county managers who put the foot down over club fixtures and the release of players with the result that thousands of club members are left numb by the repetition of weights sessions and challenge matches on bone-dry pitches before being chucked into a torrent of games inside a restrictive window.

What do we think would happen if inter-county managers’ livelihood depends on the performance of their inter-county team? Do we think all these people would agree to county board demands their panels be released at various points of the season to their clubs? And what of the long-term view?

Would a manager be willing to blood those youngsters who need time and experience in the team for a season or two when he knows he may not last that long if results go sour? Or would he instead put his faith in the been-there, done-that types who only have maybe another summer or two in them?

What would you do? 

Twitter: @ByBrendanOBrien


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