Give rules a chance, says Cooney

IN a comprehensive mass media press conference yesterday morning in Buenos Aires, where he is head of the travelling party, Christy Cooney was finding it hard to escape the pressing issues dominating the GAA.

The experimental rules for the 2010 National Hurling League, the current crises in Clare and Limerick, the permanent opening of Croke Park to other sports, the payment of managers at both club and county level, were all up for discussion and the GAA president dealt with each topic.

On the experimental rules, Cooney pleaded for people to see how they work before offering judgment.

“These are not massive changes, by any means,” he insisted. “There’s not a lot wrong with our rules but there are a few things – like the handpass in football and hurling, the penalty, the square ball – that are worth looking at. I would hope that managers would give the rules the opportunity to bed down and see how they worked before making a judgment.

“There has been a tendency for some to react after the first game; I’d be asking all players and managers to give it time, wait for a few games at least. I’d like to see team management consult the players after games, get their views and relay them back to county board through liaison officers. We’ll also get feedback ourselves from referees on how they felt the rules had gone.

“We’ve had bits and pieces around rules changes for a number of years but next year is a rule-change year at Congress. Whether we do or don’t make changes, I hope that will be it for a number of years. I don’t want to see rules changed for the sake of it.”

Cooney went on to confirm the rules will not be offered to Congress as a package but will be taken individually.

After the manager/player crises in Cork earlier this year led to weakened teams fulfilling NHL fixtures, Cooney stated that the same situation would not be allowed develop in Clare and Limerick, with Croke Park becoming proactive sooner rather than later.

“Absolutely. If it does threaten the league in the next period of time, and is not resolved, and there is a need for Páraic Duffy or myself to get involved in finding a solution to the process, we will do that. But if it can be resolved in the counties, we would very much prefer that.

“One of the priorities that will be there for the GPA and ourselves is to put in place a protocol, a template on how we manage this in future.

“It is a situation that cannot continue and we have to find a way of resolving it. I prefer to have a preventive situation in place rather than a reactive one and that will be the objective.

“It is very regrettable that this is happening in Clare and Limerick, and always – as in these cases – no one is perfect. But at the end of the day, the county board have the right and responsibility to appoint a manager and we have to ensure that there is harmony after that manager is appointed and the best support system is in place to support the players.”

On the continued use of Croke Park for soccer and rugby, where Páraic Duffy has stated that his own personal preference is that all future decisions should rest with the Central Council, the GAA president was more circumspect.

“I don’t have a personal view on it at this stage. There will be a motion on the Clár next year at Congress to give the power to Central Council and if Congress decides to do it – and I expect it will – I don’t have an issue with that. What has happened over the last five years hasn’t been bad for the association, there’s no point saying otherwise; financially it’s been very good, and it’s given a very good broad image of the association.”

Cooney reiterated his own objection to opening any other ground, at either club or county level, to other sports.

Finally, on the reports that certain managers of teams at club and county level are being paid, Cooney repeated his determination that this practice would be investigated by the GAA, and ended. “There’s a serious issue here. I think once we finalise the long-term agreement with the GPA, it will be something that we look at seriously. We can’t have a situation where our players accept that we are an amateur association, and that we’re then paying people to manage players at club and county level. It’s being totally abused. Anyone who is anybody knows that managers are being paid. It’s happening at county level and particularly at club level. It has gone out to frightening proportions from what I hear – we have to do something about it.

“I don’t believe anybody has a contract. The word contract is badly used, I think. What they get is a two-year term or a one-year term as a manager of a team, but it is not a contract in the normal sense because there’s certainly no payment outside of normal expenses a person is entitled to.”

HE did, however, accept there are above-board payments being made, at all levels, to people such as physios, dieticians, professional trainers, and the GAA has no problem with this. “Well, if you bring in somebody you have to, to provide a professional service – I use the word professional now because of the medical situation – and they do that as part of their work, of course you have to pay them.”

One thing Croke Park won’t be doing, however, is naming and shaming on an individual basis. “No, I don’t believe we will personalise it in any way. I think that would be unfair. There’s more than one person in this, in a deal when a manager is paid, be it a county board agrees to it and finds a solution, or a club agrees to that, so you just can’t blame the person involved.”


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