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Today, The GAA Boss Was Highly Critical Of His Own Organisation. He Was Dead Right.

Today, The GAA Boss Was Highly Critical Of His Own Organisation. He Was Dead Right.
Gavin Cooney
By Gavin Cooney
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Up to now, it has largely been impossible to start a piece regarding the furtive payment of GAA managers without quoting the immortal Peter Quinn line that when they investigated under-the-table payments to managers, those asked couldn't even find the tables.

Today, upon the publication of his final annual report (and therefore his final press conference with the GAA media), Páraic Duffy delivered a similarly stinging rebuke to such practice, albeit perhaps not as pithily as Quinn did. Perhaps influenced by the fact that this is his valedictory report, Duffy was highly critical of the GAA's failure to adequately tackle the issue of payments to managers.

He put it simply when speaking to the media today. "You can’t claim on the one hand to be amateur while turning a blind eye".

Duffy's was among the few official eyes first trained on illegal payments to managers.

In 2010, he published a paper on this issue, with the intention to trigger debate and ultimately formulate a policy to deal with unregulated payments to management teams. (Unregulated refers to any money coming their way outside of the expenses incurred while performing the role).  That report argued that the extent to "which the Association turns a blind eye was not acceptable" as it"undermined our volunteer spirit and tarnished the reputation of the Association".

The report concluded that "doing nothing about the issue did not constitute a viable policy; it simply avoided the issue".

And yet, that's exactly what the Association have done. Duffy complains that the debate on his 2010 paper could hardly be called that - it amounted to a single meeting with county officers in Croke Park which featured heads nodding in agreement to maintain the GAA's amateur ethos, but most were disinclined to bring the report any further. Duffy was left to write this year that the initiative was a "failure", admitting that "we avoided the issue".


In the seven years since, Duffy admits the issue has been exacerbated saying it has proliferated at club level, citing anecdotal evidence as these payments often slip through official accounts.

The most significant development since 2010, in my view, is that an increasing number of irregular payments are now being made at club level. Such payments strike at the heart of the origins and relevance of the Association's amateur and volunteer ethos...

...I wrote in 2010 that the choice facing the Association was a simple one: either we do nothing in the certain knowledge that nothing will change and that in five or ten years we would still be lamenting the damage to our ethos and values - or we decide that it would be irresolute and defeatist not to confront directly a practice that we proclaim to be a blemish on the Association.

The choice is the same one now, and the need to address it even greater.


Duffy did stress that not all managers and coaches in the GAA are paid.

As he prepares to leave the job, Duffy's report is a kind of clarion call to his successor, that a "bruising" debate awaits, but is necessary to "begin to change the existing payments culture and to come to a position consistent with our declared values".


So what happens now?

It is down to the members of the GAA to say what kind of organisation they want going into the future. I know this is really tough. We are swimming against the tide here.

Sport is all about professionalism, be it soccer, rugby, American sport, whatever. We are trying to do something that’s quite difficult. Because money rules.

But if you want to have that position, you have to fight to retain it.

Duffy demurred when asked if the answer to all of this is to regulate payments to managers and coaches, instead stressing the need to have a debate to figure out how to tackle the problem.

While doing so, he cited the example of the 15-odd years of debate and argument as to how to work with the Gaelic Players' Association. The end-point of this debate, however, was to give the GPA money.


Today, the GPA are funded to the tune of €6.2 million by the GAA, and this year marks the second of a three-year, €6.9 million government grant agreement.

This agreement, says Duffy, does not impinge on the GAA's amateur ethos.

We got to what I see as a very good arrangement, where the GPA provide a very good player welfare service funded by the GAA as a means of retaining our amateur status. If we look after our players well, then demands for ‘pay-to-play’ will go away.

I don’t think they will ever fully go away, but I think we are in a much better space regarding an extensive player welfare.

The problem now for the GAA is that it is extremely difficult to imagine the culture of managerial payments ever being rooted out entirely, while a compromise regarding the regulation of payments above the already-agreed expenses would probably be the most pragmatic resolution, it would be impossible to spin as protecting amateurism.

Either way, the failure to consistently and properly raise the issue at the highest level has only served to exacerbate the problem.  The GAA now face a crisis as an ingrained culture collides with an imagined one.

Ignorance is only the best course of action until it isn't.

See Also: Derek McGrath Defends Jamie Barron's Honesty About Future Career Plans



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