Belfast Telegraph

Far too much is now expected of inter-county GAA bosses

By Declan Bogue

Ah, winter talk! Aren't you glad to observe the traditional GAA season of naval-gazing?

Some of these years we might heed the 'real issues' but until such time, we continue to be sporting magpies, attracted to the latest shiny thing within sight.

The McKenna Cup and National League arrive with fanfare, but as soon as they conclude they are like that chocolate cake the bulimic guiltily scoffed; instantly forgotten. Good while it lasted, though.

Hell, we would have been knee-deep in bigging up the O'Fiaich Cup right now had it not been riddled with bullets when it popped its head over the December parapet.

For now though, it might be worth considering recent comments by two outgoing county managers.

The narrative of Paul Bealin's ousting from Westmeath appears to have been skilfully shaped to a manager jumping off the treadmill because he could not take any more. But his testimony is relevant nonetheless when he says that he devoted 40 to 50 hours a week to management.

Little wonder that Bealin, along with recently departed Mayo manager James Horan, have shared their thoughts on the GAA making a manager's job a paid role.

Let's forget about the minutiae for a minute as we consider a manager's workload.

While on the All-Stars trip, we fell into conversation with Horan. Asked if he was having a good time, he answered that he was enjoying the sleep more than anything else.

Little wonder when he revealed that for the past four years his average bedtime was around 2.30am. Four hours was considered by him as a decent night's sleep. Not enough for a man with a young family.

Reading Anthony Daly's superbly crafted autobiography 'Dalo' recently, there was a gripping passage when the former Clare captain and manager was recounting an early morning visit to Doughmore beach in Doonbeg.

The sea air and the salt was good for his mind, but the main purpose of being there was to 'wipe himself out', to ensure a good sleep in prior to a breakfast meeting with Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt the following morning. Even at that, he managed just the two hours.

That kind of schedule could send a man deranged.

Balancing this kind of involvement with an amateur sports team and any kind of career and family life would appear impossible.

The governing body of the game has no sympathy for those managers who spend their evenings checking up on gym visits, conducting training sessions, fulfilling media commitments, dealing with county boards and analysing upcoming opposition.

Along with generally being, for the most part, the public face of the Gaelic Athletic Association in that county.

GAA President Liam O'Neill has said that the hours a manager puts in is entirely at their own discretion. He points out, rightly, that: "There is nothing being asked of inter-county managers, nothing being asked. They decide themselves what they want to give and how they want to run their county."

Managers, in the eyes of the GAA, are volunteers, just as your club secretary, chairman and under-12 coach are.

But in each serious football county, a budget is made available to a manager to choose how he spends on his support staff, including physios, masseurs, dieticians, strength and conditioning experts and any range of motivators, performance coaches and sports psychologists.

Most, if not all, are on the payroll. Yet the guy at the top of the food chain is having to manage his coaching staff, along with keeping 30-35 young men sufficiently motivated and content.

By and large, they have done exceptionally well, given that the games we have today are vastly superior, even allowing for the sepia-toned fantasy land that the 'better in my day' gang luxuriate in.

The discussion on paying managers has been swirling around the GAA for years now, with discussion papers produced but not circulated.

Making it a paid job however, would copper-fasten the belief that the GAA is inexorably pursuing a professional route through the inter-county model.

Right now, we are in a no-man's land.

On the same All-Star tour, O'Neill acknowledged: "I've said it all along. We have the best set of players we've ever had. They're givers."

He was talking about their willingness to do anything asked of them. Damn right they are givers. As are managers.

But the Levee's a-gonna break soon.

Belfast Telegraph

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