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Oisin McConville: Debt-ridden FAI should be main reason why GAA will never go pro

John Delaney resigned as executive vice-president of the Football Association of Ireland with immediate effect in September (Brian Lawless/PA)
John Delaney resigned as executive vice-president of the Football Association of Ireland with immediate effect in September (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Oisin McConville

The suggestion from both within and outside of the GAA that the island’s biggest sporting body could potentially turn professional in the foreseeable future has, in my book, been consigned to the rubbish bin for all time.

And three significant letters, more than any passionate reasoning, will perhaps best underpin my attitude. Those letters are FAI and appear to have been engraved in the mindset of all those with this island’s best sporting interests at heart.

We have been regaled by proposals that would indicate that there is scope for an element of semi-professionalism within the GAA — take my advice and turn a deaf ear.

In what I view as a major scandal, the Football Association of Ireland has done this island a major disservice and, in the process, dealt the noble sport of soccer a major hammer-blow.

When a body entrusted with overseeing the welfare of a particular sport initially concedes that its debts might be €53m, then admits that they could be €62m and would now appear to be laden with an €88m burden, you can only shake your head in despair.

I am aware that there is a depth of feeling within the island as a whole in relation to the fact that many people — medical staff, strength and conditioning coaches, analytical personnel, trainers etc — are making good money through their involvement, but when the notion is aired that players should be paid then it is time to call a halt. 

If the FAI financial scandal — and that’s what it is — has taught us anything, it is that trust is now in very short supply when it comes to finances.

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The FAI accounts for 2017 and 2018 make grim reading, and God forbid the GAA would ever find itself within a hound’s gowl of their predicament.

Gaelic games are without doubt the most popular sport on this island, yet it would still be an enormous battle if it became professional. I believe that what has happened within the FAI should be viewed as a warning by all those who have aspirations to see the GAA become wholly professional.

Even just recently the GAA top brass and officials of the GPA were locked in negotiations on a matter pertaining to finance and I must say I was dismayed to hear Paul Flynn, the Gaelic Players’ Association CEO, indicate to journalists that the matter should remain private.

I totally disagree with this because the GAA is an organisation for the people and is governed by the people at all levels, no matter how modest. This being the case, keeping matters that are fundamentally important private does nothing to build confidence or optimism.

There may be figureheads at the top, but at grassroots level there are people putting in countless hours every week to ensure the very sustainability of the GAA — something that would not be possible if they were to get their few bob.

The FAI fiasco, from my viewpoint, has shown there should always be honesty and transparency in relation to financial dealings.

I feel that the arrogance which the FAI have revealed has been their undoing, and what appears to have been their utter disregard for rank and file soccer folk on this island beggars belief.

For the most part, the GAA conducts its business in a fair and proper manner, and while from time to time there are rumblings about who is supposed to be getting what, I feel you are always going to have accept this human nature being what it is.

The critical nature of finances in Cork, Galway and Mayo in particular of late have rammed home the message that it’s better to be penny wise than pound — or Euro as the case may be — foolish.

In theory, a totally professional GAA is not an unpleasant thought but it is highly impractical. Let’s keep everything out in the open and ensure that circumstances are not allowed to ferment whereby a public revelation can prove devastating.

Let’s ensure that we have no grey areas and thus avoid indignation and anger, which could potentially give way to open revolt.

The GAA has survived in its present guise since 1884 — I hope it continues to flourish for many, many decades to come.

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