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Presidential favourite is eager to see clubs audited

By Declan Bogue

Thefrontrunner to replace Aoghan ÓFearghail as the next President of the GAA has voiced his opposition to club managers receiving under the table payments, emphasising how clubs are struggling with finances and the weight of expectation.

Martin Skelly, the former Longford county board and Leinster council chairman, stated unequivocally: "Do I stand for under the table payments? I do not. That is not what our Association was founded on.

"It is not something I would stand over and if I was asked, my views are very clear that yes, you look after players in the best possible fashion. Yes, you look after your management teams and medical back-ups etc. But anything other than legitimate costs or fixed expenses is wrong."

Skelly is fancied to be named President-elect next month as Croke Park hosts the annual GAA Congress. He faces competition from Frank Burke (Galway), Sean Walsh (Kerry) and Robert Frost (Clare).

He was making his comments in the context of the revelation that an Ulster hurling club have requested their players to complete direct debit forms in order to pay the costs of their manager for the season ahead. If this exceeds the permitted expenses rate, then it stands as the most blatant example of the GAA's cherished amateur status being flouted.

Skelly pointed out: "The thing in particular with small, rural clubs at this time is that fundraising to keep their head above the water is just huge.

"Some clubs are capable of getting some sponsorship, others are not and sometimes it has to come down to the club lotto with the players making a contribution through that."

In most cases, expenses or under the table payments of managers are taken care of by a club benefactor and it is not unheard of for a significant proportion of the takings from a club lottery to be set aside.

The issue of paid managers, typically from outside the club or county, is one that has been a thorn in the side of GAA's administration for over two decades. While there was a taskforce set up to investigate under the table payments under previous President Peter Quinn of Fermanagh, Quinn himself quipped: "While there are many claims that managers are being paid under the table, the GAA couldn't even find the tables."

In 2012, the GAA introduced a system of 'vouched expenses' whereby county managers were forced to detail their expenses. However, payments to some individuals have allegedly continued unhindered.

Skelly, who managed his own club of Cashel in Longford up until last season, is calling for all club accounts to be audited by way of a deterrent.

"It is always impossible to trace if there is a voluntary contribution to a club manager by a benefactor," he explained.

"But all club accounts should be audited. All monies that go in or out of a club should be audited.

"I know that my own club accounts are audited. We have a qualified accountant who stands over and sings off on our books.

"That's my own experience and I believe that is the way it should be. The money is not belonging to any individual, it is money that is collected and every penny must be accounted for in a proper manner."

One theory that could discourage paid managers is that a club can only be managed by a club member.

"Implementing legislation like that would be totally unworkable," said Skelly.

"A motion to that effect, I believe, would put greater stress on hard-pressed club officials at this moment in time.

"Of course, it is ideal (if you are managed by a clubman) but we have to live in the real world. And, in rural Ireland at this time, numbers are very small."

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