JOHN FOGARTY: Counties play dumb on GAA managers’ pay

SKYWARD: Galway's Eddie Hoare scores a late point against  Sligo in the FBD League game at Enniscrone. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile

It’s three years this month since GAA director general Páraic Duffy released his discussion paper on the association’s amateur status and payments to team managers, writes John Fogarty.

Discussion may have been the operative word but its author’s disappointment was difficult to ignore when counties opted to use all their powers to ensure county managers weren’t remunerated for their services.

“I’d have preferred a much more mixed response,” Duffy said, shortly after the decision. “In terms of moving it forward, I suppose I would like to be totally convinced that that’s what people really want to do, and I’m not so sure that’s the case. It’s what they come back and said what they want to do is at odds with what is actually happening at the moment. The gap between those two things is quite considerable. I wonder if it (the response) reflects people’s true feelings. Only time will tell.”

Duffy’s concerns about counties following through on their word are well placed. Last June, for example, they voted to accept in principle the Football Review Committee’s recommendation to finish the GAA season in the calendar year. The task force will make a presentation to Central Council the week after next before it goes to Congress in Cavan next month. However, there are already several chairmen and secretaries publicly raising concerns about it.

Three years on from Duffy’s discussion paper and the question that begs asking is what’s changed? On the face of it, not much. Anecdotal reports circulate of managers being paid. More tales, in fact. With the upturn in the economy, that’s no surprise.

It’s not that county boards are splurging again. Several of those who erred in the past are still paying back what they owe, with many of them doing so under the watchful eye of the GAA’s finance department.

Then there is the compliance structure set out in the wake of the discussion paper whereby Croke Park has been empowered to audit counties’ financial activities to ensure they don’t contravene the amateur ethos.

But there are still several ways of getting around such “nuisances”. Duffy addressed the loopholes in his document. “The options and models have an obvious limitation, in that they cannot address, or solve the problem of, unofficial and undeclared payments or rewards being given to managers and members of management teams by individual sponsors or benefactors, or by individual supporters or groups of supporters (via ‘supporters’ clubs’).

“Such payments, by definition, do not pass through the official records and book-keeping of county boards or clubs, and would not, therefore, be included in the annual registration of information provided to Registration and Audit Boards at national and county level. It has to be recognised that there is no easy or obvious solution to this problem.”

By reining in independent supporters clubs in the last couple of years, as Duffy recommended, the GAA have managed to get some grip on the situation but it’s a loose one. What counties do now is willingly permit their managers to go raise funds themselves for their endeavours.

Some counties go further than allowing such practices. This column knows of at least one county where the last two managers in one code have been asked how they intend financing their team’s preparations. No longer is a manager’s acumen judged in results on the field but off it too.

Last year, Donegal had at least five training camps — Portugal, Inishowen, Mullingar, Johnstown and Enniskillen. The funding was raised entirely by Jim McGuinness. A helicopter was also made available to the Dublin-based players. It’s hardly surprising the county board returned a tidy profit of €242,281 last year.

Kieran McGeeney’s fundraising expertise is also well-known. From Kildare to Armagh, he’s been able to ensure his players have the best of everything. Both he and McGuinness have a lot of appeal and in smaller counties that ability is essential if they are to achieve but such activities do nothing to dissuade the cult status of managers. What’s funny is that’s something the GAA publicly maintain they are firmly against.

However, the inconvenient truth emerging is that managers are becoming almost untouchable by keeping their boards in the black. What happens in championship and league is of course important but if progress is made at the same time returning favourable figures, then all the better. So what if it is done off the books?

But by giving free licence to managers who are in what are traditionally fleeting roles where their focus are trained on a limited number of goals sometimes not in the best interests of the county, aren’t officials abdicating their responsibilities? They most surely are but that won’t shock Duffy. He’d telegraphed it.

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