More managers could follow McGuinness's code breaking

Wed, Nov 14, 2012, 00:00

GAELIC GAMES:Interestingly, a year that began with a debate on whether intercounty managers should be (officially) paid moves to its close with a vivid demonstration of the issue’s central dilemma.

Managers are capable of transformative achievement within counties, which greatly benefits the GAA’s profile and status in the community but there is no mechanism for materially recognising or securing this contribution.

Although rumours swirl around some individuals and their alleged fondness for below-the-counter remuneration, it’s difficult to think of any successful managers for whom financial reward is their primary motivation.

One of the official arguments previously used against payment for managers is it would discriminate against players, who remain amateur. I was never entirely sure whether this view was founded on genuine concern for the sacrifices made by players or simply on apprehension about a thin end of the wedge.

In any event the discussion document published last January by the association’s director general, Páraic Duffy, alludes to the pivotal role played by managers.

That allusion is purely observational. Proof of its truth lies in the importance counties place on appointing and keeping managers and how players react to what they see as inadequate appointments.

In an amateur context this is perfectly reasonable. If you’re volunteering a lot of time and intense commitment you’re entitled to feel that whoever’s in charge will harness your effort for an optimal outcome.

The GAA’s directives on the amateur ethos have occasionally wandered into the realm of the metaphysical. Before the area of commercial endorsements was declared – or prised – open there was the dispensation that allowed players to advertise products connected with their employment.

As a consequence there’s a fine body of advertisements from past decades, featuring farmers who also happened to be well-known intercounty players promoting menacing- sounding chemical treatments for farm animals.

Otherwise, the exemption was little exploited: no dentists preached the desirability of toothpaste brands nor barbers the benefits of hair tonic. Students were allowed do anything – or so we learned after a blind eye was turned to a youthful Jason Sherlock’s at the time edgy association with a department store.

I was at a summer school last year taking part in a platform discussion of professionalism in Irish sport. Having explained the tortuous evolution of the GAA’s amateur ethos, I was silenced by a harrumph from fellow guest George Hook, who observed that it wasn’t possible to lose one’s virginity incrementally.

But virginity is about the least useful comparison that can be made with amateurism in sport because the latter’s loss is always incremental, a series of concessions and re-definitions that wind up eroding more and more of the original ideal.

By this stage it is arguable that the ethos of amateurism is less important than its practicalities. The Duffy discussion document is sceptical about the extent to which amateurism in the case of managers is an actual principle.

“The truth of the matter, however,” it states, “is that the GAA’s attitude to the issue owes more to inertia and expediency than to anything else. In essence, the Association has let itself drift into an attitude of knowingly ignoring the problem, either hoping it will go away, or that no one will mention it.”

In all of the angst generated by the departure of a few players to try their hand in Australia and the more widespread departures for rugby and soccer few had imagined that managers might become part of the migration.

Jim McGuinness is at present an exceptional case. His qualifications are primarily what equip him for the position with Celtic. His achievements with Donegal simply drew attention to his abilities.

What differentiates McGuinness from any other professionally qualified person in his situation is that regardless of recession there are very few outlets for his expertise. The rugby provinces are about the only full-time sports clubs operating in Ireland and realistically, a career in his chosen area will require at least some time spent abroad.

Yet the academic disciplines in which McGuinness excelled are also beginning to produce other GAA members and players who hope to make a living and have taken up positions in other sports.

The debate on paying intercounty managers didn’t rear up just because Páraic Duffy was bored. Payments to coaches and managers – in complete defiance of Rule 11 – have been going on for a long time. The idea was to monitor and regulate the situation.

It was effectively about whether to extend the growing exemption list, which already includes administrators, professional advisers, groundsmen and development officers, to intercounty managers.

The argument when a promising young player, most recently Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny, goes to the AFL is that players are free to pursue what career they want. The same argument must also apply to a manager who may be lost to professional sport.

By voting to intensify the efforts to crack down on – rather than regulate – payments to intercounty managers the GAA signalled that it didn’t consider them to be integral to the operation of the association and its games.

Reactions in Donegal last week would suggest otherwise.

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