Duffy frustrated at GAA’s continued blind eye to payment of managers

Fact that practice is now widespread at club level too an added concern for outgoing DG

Páraic Duffy GAA director general with GAA president  Aogán Ó Fearghail at the launch of the former’s   final annual report at Croke Park. Photograph:  Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Páraic Duffy GAA director general with GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail at the launch of the former’s final annual report at Croke Park. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

 

In his final annual report to GAA Congress, outgoing director general Páraic Duffy was careful to avoid being portentous about his 10-year term of office. If anyone had harboured ideas that he would sign off by settling a few scores they would have been disappointed.

Instead it was more a compilation of greatest hits: most of the positions adopted were restatements, albeit in some cases, vigorous ones.

Neither was he likely to turn his report into a listicle of missed opportunity and regrets but it’s pretty clear that he does harbour one disappointment in particular even though he parried the suggestion during Tuesday’s media conference.

It actually goes back to this month six years ago. That was when the GAA discussion document on Amateur Status and Payment to Team Managers was published. In fact it went back a bit farther, as the document, which had been drawn up by Duffy, had been finalised 14 months previously.

Writing about the paper, Duffy dates it – and on Tuesday continually cited it as – from December 2010, drawing a discreet veil over his irritation at the foot -dragging that saw it kept under wraps until January 2012 for fear that it would prove incendiary.

Conclusions were straightforward. There were three options: the status quo, allow regulated remuneration for inter-county managers or enforce the amateur status rules. Duffy was clearly open to the second but stated his disinterest whether it or the third was chosen.

The one thing he believed shouldn’t be done was continue with the practice of pretending to uphold amateur status while at the same time turning a blind eye to its frequent breach. Inevitably that was precisely what the GAA decided to do.

In Tuesday’s report, Duffy summarised:

“The paper noted, in conclusion, that the GAA had to face the reality that doing nothing about the issue did not constitute a viable policy; it simply avoided the issue. In the end, unhappily, that is exactly what we did – we avoided the issue, and that remained the policy.

“The debate on the paper was a brief one, if, in fact, it could even be called a debate at all. I recall a meeting of county officers in Croke Park to consider the report. Overwhelming support was declared for maintaining our rules on amateurism, but even more obvious was a lack of enthusiasm for any attempt to implement the proposals made in the paper.

“The initiative simply failed.”] Hardly any of his other initiatives down the years met with such bald rejection.

Direct manner

If one issue crystallises Duffy’s intermittent frustrations with the GAA this is it. In the original report, he acknowledged the influence of Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh’s address to mark the GAA’s 125th anniversary in 2009. Ó Tuathaigh had identified unregulated payments to managers as a serious threat to “the reputation and future health” of the association.

He further urged that it be addressed in a transparent and direct manner.

In revisiting the issue this week, Duffy kept his message simple: debate the subject and come to a sustainable conclusion. He wasn’t opposed to outside managers, just those who are in receipt of irregular payments. The prompt for this is the director general’s belief that the situation has become more widespread at club level in the seven years since.

Whereas he mounted in 2010 a spirited outline of protocols to remunerate county managers (as an option), Duffy believes that the same approach is anathema to the volunteer ethics of clubs.

His explanation of how outside managers can simply be volunteers whose home club is too successful to require their input but who enjoy or want to develop their coaching may be plausible but ultimately the categorisation may be out of date.

Some clubs are paying coaches for the same reason that some counties are. They want to get the best out of their players and the players want the same, as anything else wastes their time. Certainly there are largely recreational teams who would rarely be looking for anything other than a volunteer coach but others differ.

Duffy’s belief that an organisation shouldn’t be preaching one thing and doing another is absolutely valid. But when he calls for the GAA to make up their minds on this and in effect stop evading the issue, he’s missing the possibility that this evasion, settled on in response to his report, might be exactly how the association wants to proceed.

I wrote at the time and before the vote that precedent suggested counties would continue to act in the interests of what is perceived as their teams’ best prospects of success rather than out of any attachment to policy or ‘core values’. So it proved.

On Tuesday Duffy said in exasperation that if the association decided that it didn’t want the status quo, “why not change the rules on amateur status and say we’re not amateur? We’re semi-professional. I don’t believe anyone in the GAA wants to go there.”

Whereas his frustration with the hypocrisy is understandable, the GAA in many ways has already gone there.

 smoran@irishtimes.com

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