JOHN FOGARTY: We need to talk about GAA volunteerism

Aogán Farrell and Páraic Duffy

Seven months into his role as GPA chief executive, Dermot Earley continues a charm offensive around the counties, writes John Fogarty.

“It hasn’t got out to the wider GAA public on exactly what we do,” he said on his appointment back in January.

Earley is correct but if he was really honest, he’d admit there remains a distrust of the GPA.

It doesn’t matter that their commitment to the amateur ethos of the GAA is enshrined. In many eyes’ they represent elitism.

It wasn’t so long ago that prominent GPA members were delivering quotes such as Enda McNulty’s: “How would the provision of sports grants for inter-county players affect, in any way, the volunteers who help run the GAA? Would they stop? And if so, why would they stop unless they believe that sweeping a floor is as important as playing in an Ulster final?”

Then there was former GPA chairman Dónal Óg Cusack’s: “The idea of volunteerism? I don’t accept that.”

Cusack uttered those words in 2005, at the height of GPA-GAA tensions and almost four years before their initial deal with Croke Park. They were indeed incendiary words but with the benefit of time, it’s a topic worth debating. Last week, in defending the GAA’s continuing relationship with Sky Sports, Aogán Farrell declared himself to be “a volunteer president”.

On the back of a proud career as an unpaid active member of the GAA, Farrell was elected. However, since Seán McCague’s presidency in 2000, there has been a facility for presidents to be remunerated for their three-year terms.

In an interview with the Irish Independent prior to being appointed in 2014, the Cavan man said: “The president is the volunteer leader of the GAA, who derives his authority from Congress. It is a full-time commitment. Recognising that commitment, presidents seek leave of absence from their work duties and the GAA compensates the loss of salary. If my board of management approved, I would seek such leave. As a national school principal, I currently earn about €70,000 per year.”

No “paid” president has been so upfront about his earnings than Farrell, and for that he should be applauded. It can’t be doubted that he now earns it as Uachtarán. Yes, the role is an honour and a privilege but given their myriad of ceremonial duties, not to mention the policy-making alongside director general Páraic Duffy, it is understandable that the GAA saw fit to pay presidents for their time.

But some of their time was more precious than others. Defending the estimated €450,000 he received from the GAA for his time away as a regional director in FÁS, Christy Cooney said: “I would say to you, the only situation that’s there is that a person that comes into the office of presidency wouldn’t be out of pocket and wouldn’t lose money as a result of taking on the role.”

That would make sense were it not for the fact that for the same role, people would be compensated differently. It would be logical too were it not there are inter-county managers suffering financially because of the volunteer roles they have undertaken.

Players too, obviously, but as regards managers it’s an issue which Duffy has attempted to address only for counties to insist that the amateur status should be copperfastened.

There is little proof that they have honoured that double down pledge. What is evident is that managers are making more sacrifices than ever before. Derek McGrath felt compelled to take leave from work to focus on Waterford. After announcing his resignation following Saturday’s qualifier defeat to Mayo, Peadar Healy underlined the incredible demands placed on him. “At this level, you just need to devote your life to it. That’s the way it’s going, especially when you’re on the managerial side of it. It’s that professional. You’d either want to be retired or a teacher and off for the summer. You just need a lot of time for this job.”

McGrath is a secondary school teacher, afforded over two months off work, but even that wasn’t enough. Brian Cody took early retirement a couple of years ago. His longevity is obviously down to success but his work commitments have obviously been conducive to his volunteer role. Similarly, Mickey Harte has benefited from a less hectic work schedule having quit teaching several years ago. Jim McGuinness, before he joined Celtic, worked freelance and could devote oodles of time to Donegal.

Inter-county management shouldn’t be exclusive to teachers and part-timers but unless the man in charge has a legion of support and excellent delegation skills, ie Jim Gavin, that is the way. Take the last 10 All-Ireland senior championships in football and hurling — 11 have been won by teachers or former teachers, three by a pilot, two by bank officials, two by entrepreneurs/consultants and two by chief executives.

A primary school teacher himself, Farrell has every right to call himself a volunteer but a volunteer president? That’s a matter of opinion as is the very definition of volunteer as the GAA now understands it.

Hurling isn’t black and white

We need to talk about GAA volunteerism

It was a Michael Duignan tweet criticising the fare of Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final we put to Derek McGrath that began the blowback from the participating managers against the RTÉ pundit, and it’s another Duignan post on Twitter that we raise now.

In a response to Mary Immaculate College’s Fitzgibbon Cup-winning manager Jamie Wall about Davy Fitzgerald’s use of the sweeper, the former Offaly man on Sunday typed: “That’s his prerogative as a coach Jamie but it just doesn’t work. We all have a responsibility to the game & to give our honest opinion.”

Duignan’s forthrightness is what he trades on, he believes in what he says and he should never apologise for either but Fitzgerald and McGrath’s policies have proven to work — Clare did use a sweeper for part of their run to claiming the All-Ireland in 2013, Wexford defied the odds to climb out of Division 1B operating the tactic, Waterford have been the third best team in the country for three straight seasons.

Not only that, what responsibility have Fitzgerald and McGrath to the game, other than to try and beat the team that’s in front of them?

In his Daily Mail column yesterday, Duignan slammed the sweeper tactic as a “cop-out”.

Waterford, McGrath revealed earlier this year, used four game-plans against Kilkenny last year. “We played eight minutes one way, 12 minutes another and so on.” There’s a sophistication attached to what he and Fitzgerald do that Duignan fails to understand.

Duignan’s view is shared by many but it is a variation of snobbery that does hurling no favours. There are no rules being broken.

The spirit of the game isn’t in any jeopardy. Fitzgerald and McGrath refuse to accept defeat but Duignan refuses to accept change.

To quote The Wire’s Marlo Stanfield (yes, another Wire quote), “You want it to be one way. But it’s the other way.”

A weekend of goodbyes?

We need to talk about GAA volunteerism

Alan O’Connor. Donncha O’Connor. Karl Lacey. Frank McGlynn. Brendan Bugler. Patrick Donnellan.

Peadar Healy may have been the only inter-county figure to step aside this past weekend but may we have seen the last of the aforementioned sextet in county colours after Saturday’s results?

Not that we want to usher them towards the pastures of club football and hurling but the indications are they will be waving goodbye to the inter-county scene. Alan O’Connor, 33 next year, agreed to return to the Cork set-up last year having previously stepped away. That he returned from a serious knee injury to line out again this year showed the measure of the man.

His namesake Donncha turns 37 in April and yet he helped save Cork’s hides on a couple of occasions this year, while his ingenuity and marksmanship were beacons in the first half against Mayo.

Four-time All-Star Lacey is a couple of months away from turning 33 and owes Donegal little more. Likewise, McGlynn has given sterling service and will only be 31 in 2017 but he has just completed his 12th season.

Both Bugler and Donnellan are 33 next summer. Two-time All-Star Bugler’s fitness levels are well-known and Donnellan has done remarkably well to recover from a cruciate tear to earn a squad place this season but they might now feel it’s best to depart.

If so, like the other four, they should do with no shortage of praise.


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