Tramore Hinterland – GAA’s cash conundrum

(pdf of article)

Another week, another euro fifty. In this week’s Tramore Hinterland: why those arguing that the GAA should put payments to managers on an official basis must be careful about what they wish for.

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So much that goes pear-shaped in the GAA gets blamed by those in the GAA on the dreaded meeja. Fuss over ‘foreign’ games in Croke Park? We have a healthy relationship with other sports and defy anyone in those other sports to publically say otherwise. Clubs in the North hosting Provo-tinged events? We can’t be expected to keep tabs on every element of our great association. Massive brawl involving players and spectators alike? We . . . have you nothing better to write about, ya Tan-loving West Brit?

Still, there are some GAA talking points that only exist in the minds of jaded hacks – and yes, I’m aware of the irony of saying this now that I’m a member of the jaded hack community. The debate over paid managers is a case in point. Private Eye has a running gag in its pages about how newspapers pad out their coverage with inane stories. These stories are written by ‘Phil Space’ or, for a bit of variety, ‘Philippa Column’ – and yes, I’m aware of the possibility that I’m Tramore Hinterland’s Phil Space. Certainly it is sports writers who are the greatest culprits in this regard, and none more so than daily GAA journalists.

How the likes of Martin Breheny or Seán Moran must yearn for some excitement in their everyday working life. Looking across their desks at their soccer colleagues must be a galling experience as they are able to fill their daily word count with low-hanging stories of strife at whatever big-shot English Premier League club has seen its troubles reach boiling point (there’s always one at any given stage of the season) or simply making up a story about a noteworthy player at a noteworthy club being linked with another noteworthy club, usually in Spain or Italy so no one is likely to contradict it. File the copy and presto! the soccer journalist is transformed into that other beloved trope of Private Eye, Lunchtime O’Booze, while the GAA journalist is stuck in the office for the afternoon straining like a schoolboy on detention trying to complete a hundred lines in as fast a time as possible.

And what better resolution to that particular conundrum than a semi-professional GAA? Even if the GAA could devise a method whereby they could keep players tied to their own county in a pay-per-play era, which is doubtful as some player from a small county is bound to take a Bosman-style case to be allowed to play for a different, more successful county to his own, the pressures on inter-county players would mushroom. As it is, we have the farcical sight of players being asked to train three or four times a week in preparation for what for half of them will only be two games. Stephen Frampton observed duringWaterford’s run in the 1998 hurling championship that he never minded playing games even when they were being hammered – it was the training that killed him. Yet some want the GAA to officially institute rules which will make all managers effectively full-time and able to devote all their waking hours to training. Meanwhile the players remain amateurs but expected to keep to the full-time manager’s increasingly punishing timetable.

Overlaying all that will be the increasing dislocation of the players from their clubs.  This isn’t just a matter of De La Salle missing the services of John Mullane. It’s about matches being postponed because the inter-county team are having a run in the championship. And ‘the team’ could be Senior, Minor or Under-21 or even a football team, the progress of whom can impact on the club hurling or football fixtures. The GAA relies heavily on the old ties-that-bind, expecting players with a club to put up with all manner of slights because it’s for the good of the parish. How long before a generation arises without those ties, who just want to play a team sport with their peers, and can see that the local soccer club can offer them 15-20 matches a year without fear that the game will be postponed because the club has someone who plays for the county youth team?

This isn’t an argument for pure amateurism in the GAA. Not today, anyway. People need to realise that officially allowing payments to inter-county managers cannot take place in isolation. It will have a significant ripple effect through the rest of the association, and those advocating such payments had better spell out in advance how those ripples should be dealt with. At least it’ll phil a few column inches in a daily newspaper.

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These are stellar times for Irish golf. Rory McIlroy is justly taking plaudits for becoming the second-youngest man to ever rise to the status of World No. 1 and Irish golf fans must be giddy with excitement at the prospect of him tearing up fields for years to come.

What McIroy’s success and that of his countrymen has highlighted is just how lacking in ambition Irish golfers were before now. It’s incredible to think that Fred Daly’s win at Hoylake in 1947 was the sole instance of an Irishman winning a Major title from more than a century of professional golf. And for most of my lifetime none of them even came close, Christy O’Connor Jr’s course record in the first round atSandwichin 1985 being the only time an Irish player even caused a ripple at a Major event. It was as if they were happy to pick up cheques for finishing in the top 10 then olé-olé it up at the Ryder Cup.

So as Rory McIlroy prepares to take on the world over the next decade, spare a thought – not too big a thought, he’s rich enough not to care – for a man currently hacking his way around the nether regions of each event. It took a German, Martin Kaymer, to note that without Pádraig Harrington blazing a trail for European golf then none of them would have had the confidence to take on the bestAmericahad to offer and win. For years Harrington was a figure of fun for his habit of finishing second, but there was nothing of Chip Beck, the man who laid up on the 15th in the last round of the 1993USMasters when he needed to pick up three shots, about Harrington. No safeguarding his pay-day for him. It is unlikely Harrington will ever get back to the level that he managed in those thirteen glorious months in 2007 and 2008. But as Joseph Heller might say, who else has?

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