Under the GAA's rules, the only payments that team managers can receive are vouched expenses for travel (at a set rate nationally) and meals. But there is a strong belief within the association that this rule is being broken both at club and inter-county level. So, is it time the GAA relaxed its rules and allowed managers to be compensated for their time and efforts? Colm Keys and Martin Breheny argue the case for and against
Players’ amateur ethos will fall if bosses go semi-pro, writes Martin Breheny
The one certainty about allowing an exception to become a rule is this: it will further corrupt whatever it was meant to correct.
All the more so when there’s money involved, so if the GAA decides that the solution to ‘illegal’ payments to managers is to officially authorise them, they will create an even bigger problem than already exists.
It’s akin to painting over rust. It initially appears to have been successful when, in reality, serious damage is being done beneath the veneer.
Years ago, the Government introduced a £3,000 (€3,810) grant for first-time buyers of new houses which was designed to help young people get on the property ladder.
Within a short time, the price of new houses country-wide had increased by around £3,000.
Noting that many purchasers now had an extra £3,000 to spend, developers simply increased their prices by that amount, thereby acquiring a hefty State-sponsored bonus while the buyers were no better off than before. Much the same will happen if the GAA alters its rules on managerial payments.
If managers are to be paid a specific fee, it will have to be treated as income, thereby becoming liable for income tax.
That will lead to considerably less take-home pay for managers than currently applies for many of them.
The inevitable outcome will be higher demands from managers as they seek to retain the same return as they currently enjoy. It will also result in a two-tier system where the basic fee is above board while the main chunk remains under the counter.
It would be the worst of both worlds, delivering an official structure which forces costs up while making no real difference to private cash deals. Increasing expenses, as opposed to making direct payments, is another option for consideration.
Technically, that’s possible – especially with the mileage rate standing at 50c per mile – and while it would have the obvious advantage of attracting no tax liability, it still raises hard questions which should dominate this entire debate.
Why should managers get a higher mileage allowance than players? And are county and club officers, most of whom put in long hours for free, not as entitled to be paid as managers?
It would be easy to overlook one reality in all of this: managers take the job because they want to. It’s not as if they are conscripted or dragged reluctantly from their firesides down to a cold, dreary field on a winter’s night.
It’s their choice and if they are not happy with the expense arrangements that prevail within the amateur organisation of which they are members, they can always resort to watching ‘Fair City’ and allow others to manage teams.
The argument that managing an inter-county team is virtually a fulltime job is regularly produced as a reason why payments should apply, but what about the ever-increasing back-room teams?
The manager is at the top of the pyramid, but if he has fitted the layers carefully underneath him, much of the workload shouldn’t find its way up to him.
Of course, one of the contradictions is that, in many cases, substantial payments are being made to people in the back-room team such as doctors, physios, trainers, conditioning coaches, psychologists, video and stats analysts etc, while the manager is expected to work for free.
Quite whether all the additional ‘experts’ are necessary is a moot point, but it has now became a fact of GAA life.
The argument that by retaining a rule on amateurism while knowing that it’s being broken on a widespread scale, the GAA are open to accusations of hypocrisy is scarcely a sufficient reason to shed a core principle.
There’s actually no solution to the under-the-counter payments as they currently exist because, by their nature, they can’t be traced.
However, changing the rule on amateurism to allow managers to receive official fees won’t solve the problem either – it will create a new one, involving additional costs which will form only part of the payments scene.
And that’s without considering the implications under employment law of paying managers.
If a manager is signed up for two or three years for a certain figure, will he be entitled to a full pay-off if he’s let go in the meantime?
And what of a scenario where there’s a change of manager in mid-season: will he have to be paid for a full campaign?
Payment to managers is high up the agenda because of the black economy culture it has spawned.
For all its imperfections, it’s a more honourable course to continue battling against those who are ignoring the rules, rather than relaxing the regime to facilitate managers becoming semiprofessional.
Do that and it’s only a matter of time until the amateur wall is flattened by the players. And who could blame them? If that happens, who knows what the future holds for the GAA?
Time and pressures of role demand financial support, says Colm Keys
In their 416-word departure note just weeks after their All-Ireland hurling triumph over Kilkenny in September 2010, one sentence was illuminated so powerfully that it had the effect of shining a light over the entire landscape of GAA inter-county management.
In lowering the anchor to park themselves after three years on the high seas, Liam Sheedy, Eamonn O’Shea and Michael Ryan perhaps inadvertently were crystallising the role that management of inter-county management had become.
“We have found ourselves working up to 16-hour days in order to deliver in both roles and this is simply not sustainable on an ongoing basis. This has led to our decision to stand down,” the trio signed off. If employment and their passion for Tipperary hurling was consuming 16 hours of their daily lives, it was leaving them with little time for anything else but sleep.
Assuming that work took up a little more than half of that 16-hour run, then it was logical to deduct that Tipperary was responsible for six to seven hours of their time each day. With the target of an All-Ireland title achieved and with such a workload hanging over them, what else was going to keep them?
And so, Tipperary lost their most successful management structure in over a decade. Putting in 16-hour days to fulfil work and sports management obligations wasn’t merely a choice.
To achieve what they set out to achieve and take down the greatest ever hurling team, they saw this workload as a necessity. Sheedy was a very ‘hands-on’ manager who never missed a training session in his three years, and could more often than not be found visiting the gyms where his players were training on the nights when they weren’t engaged collectively.
On weekends, the workload was just as significant. The time identified by Sheedy and his team tallied with the conclusion former Mayo footballer Kevin McStay came to in autumn 2005 when he was weighing up the Mayo job, which had become vacant after John Maughan’s departure.
McStay hadn’t been approached but had been linked locally with the position and that set him thinking aloud. In an article that he wrote for the ‘Mayo News’ at the time, he too figured that the job involved a minimum of 40 hours, including 12 hours travelling from his base in Roscommon.
Scouting players, opponents, challenge games, launches and receptions, which a manager may feel obliged to attend, and visits to injured players and county board officials were left out of his analysis.
His conclusion was that a secondment or a career break, if you are not a teacher, was the only way he could manage his native county. In the end, the job went to Mickey Moran and John Morrison.
So 40 hours a week is the ballpark figure for the time required to be an inter-county manager. It says nothing, however, of the relative pressure involved in being at the head of affairs of a ‘staff’ of close to 50 when all strands – squad and backroom team – are brought together.
And, of course, the pressure to deliver performances and results. For sure, that pressure was always there, but, in an increasingly timeconsuming and professional dressingroom environment, does the manager not stand alone from everybody else?
Is it not time to recognise his status as the key influence on just about everything? Is it right that the manager isn’t officially recompensed yet many of his back-room team can submit invoices for their services?
Physios, masseurs, physical trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, video analysts and nutritionists are all on the payroll. Surely the manager, who oversees everything, should be given at least equal status for his services?
Legitimising payment would surely attract better candidates too, and rather than strengthening the hand of the manager even more, it would empower county boards with more of the control that has been ebbing away from them. As paymasters, they could call a few more shots.
A majority of players would, it seems, accept ‘paid' managers too, according to a Gaelic Players Association survey conducted in 2010, and would not seek remuneration themselves in such a scenario.
Players don't commit the same amount of time, aren't under the same pressure and while there are imposing lifestyle considerations, they know that payment for so many is unsustainable.
The establishment of a licensing system over time where certain criteria are met, like passing a rules examination and certain standards are applied, would also be helpful.
The great challenge for the GAA is how such a rule change would filter down to clubs, but just because there is legitimacy to something it doesn’t mean everyone has to do it.
Clubs, like counties, should know the means at their disposal and many may choose to retain strict amateur values anyway.
Retain the status quo and this will always be a big blight on the landscape, a rule that is blatantly ignored by those who agree to keep it there in the first place. The time and pressures of the role now demand that it is recognised.