Nickey Brennan on the big debate:
Can the mess of paying managers be cleaned up?

The publication of the discussion paper dealing with the GAA’s Amateur Status and Payments to Team Managers has, as expected, generated lots of interest. It seems that everyone has an opinion, but getting a consensus on the best approach may not be easy.

The publication of the discussion paper dealing with the GAA’s Amateur Status and Payments to Team Managers has, as expected, generated lots of interest. It seems that everyone has an opinion, but getting a consensus on the best approach may not be easy.

At this stage I must declare a vested interest. I was one of a number of individuals who assisted the GAA Director General in his preparation of the discussion paper. The document, though, is primarily the work of Paraic Duffy.

I am refraining therefore from declaring which option I believe is best, for the moment, and I will come back to the topic again at a later date. This discussion paper has been written with two objectives.

The first is to engender debate and reflection on an issue which can no longer be ignored, such are the implications for the values that the GAA espouses and seeks genuinely to embody.

And secondly it is to benefit from the ideas that will emerge from the debate, so as to allow the ’Association to formulate a policy on the issue of payments to managers and management teams.

The discussion paper does not propose to pay managers, but it is unequivocal in stating that the GAA must address an issue that has caused endless difficulties at inter-county and club levels.

Most of the focus may well centre on inter-county managers, but in reality the problem is much more acute at club level. Successive GAA Presidents (this one included) have attempted to deal with the issue, but every effort to date has ended in failure.

Serious consideration

The difference now is that the discussion paper is the first genuine attempt to articulate a range of options which the GAA must consider relating to the payment of managers. More options may well emerge from the consultation process with County Boards and clubs.

The document deserves serious consideration by every County Board and club. It is imperative also that whatever conclusion is reached, that the agreed policy is implemented in full.

Therein lies the real dilemma for the GAA. There are many examples of County Boards failing, even unwilling, to implement official GAA policy. That can often be down to officials being intimidated or even over-awed by the county team manager.

It will be denied, of course, but in some counties the team manager wields enormous power, including dictating when club games are played. Club players do not register on the radar of some inter-county team managers and it’s a situation that is utterly frustrating for many clubs around the country.

The actions of a few should not mean every manager is painted with the same brush. Many managers are conscientious and fully understand the need to support club fixture programmes and adhere to whatever budgetary measures are put in place in a county.

The challenge of coming up with an amicable solution is that there is a world of difference between the training and management regimes of teams at both ends of the Gaelic games spectrum.

Is it really possible to regulate a remuneration model for inter-county team managers which is fair to everyone?

Paraic Duffy’s document will require little discussion in a number of counties (Kilkenny being one), simply because the notion of paying the manager would never be contemplated. Even if a regulated remuneration model emerges from the debate, counties will not be forced into a position which is totally alien to how they have always operated.

Profile of managers has grown

If the profile of the inter-county team manager has grown enormously over the past decade or more, so too has their work load. Every county may start out in January with championship ambitions, but the reality is that many of the same teams always end up at the summit.

Still, irrespective of a county’s profile, the pressure to succeed is a heavy burden on the shoulders of every inter-county team manager. Sympathy, though, is generally in short supply for any unsuccessful manager.

The notion has been proffered in some quarters that a team manager might double-up as a Coaching Officer within a county. That may well be a solution in some counties, provided of course that the individual operates under official GAA coaching procedures.

When the debates relating to the Government grants to players and recognition of the GPA were making headlines, many forecast the end of the GAA’s amateur status. Pay for play, they said, was coming and the GAA as we knew it was finished.

The outcome has been rather different.

The economic situation has seen a dramatic reduction in the players grants and recognition of the GPA has seen the players’ body firmly endorse the ’Association’s amateur ethos.

I recognise that many loyal GAA people remain uncomfortable with the scale of the funding to the GPA, but they can be assured that every cent is accounted for and reported through official channels.

The same debate has now commenced regarding payments to managers. The GAA continues to attract enormous levels of volunteers and that will not change, irrespective of what outcome emerges from the debates around the country on Paraic Duffy’s discussion paper.

Of course it would be far better if everyone involved with the GAA did so on a voluntary basis, but that is not practical any more. Coaching Officers have been employed for years and their work is very evident in every country.

Other personnel employed at county, provincial and national levels deliver a wide and varied range of support services to every GAA unit. I heard comments in the past week criticising the employment of these people. Clearly it was done without any knowledge of each individuals role in the ’Association.

Volunteers - they still work

On a daily basis volunteers at every level of the GAA contribute enormously to its operation and development. So too do the full and part employees. Their guidance and expertise is essential in supporting the thousands of volunteers throughout the country and overseas.

At a time when this country is ravaged by unemployment, it is to the credit of the GAA that it remains such a valued employer. In fact, towards the end of last year, the GAA announced its support for the Government’s Job Bridge initiative, yet another example of tangible support for the country.

How much of the debate will focus on the club manager remains to be seen. That, after all, is where the real problem lies.

A nightly fee is often the method of remuneration for individuals who are engaged as club managers. By the time the playing season ends, the overall sum can big. The value for money proposition is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Readers will be aware of clubs around the country who have paid big money to engage the services of a team manager and had little to show for their investment at the end of the year.

As with many inter-county managers, we have lots of club managers who carry out their duties in an entirely volunteering role in their own club. To them it is a matter of giving back to a club that has been so much part of their lives.

Debate will become intense

The debate will grow in intensity over the coming month and GAA President, Christy Cooney, has set an ambitious deadline for a final decision. It is a bit early to say if this deadline can be met, but we will have a clearer picture by mid-March.

Following Saturday’s gathering of county official in Croke Park, it has emerged that counties are being asked to communicate their response to the discussion document in writing. That’s a new approach and puts the pressure back on county officers to deliver a response.

Three options are included in the discussion paper – do nothing; implement the current rules or implement a regulated payments system.

Selecting one of those may not be too difficult, but implementing and policing the desired outcome will the GAA’s toughest challenge.