Friday, June 29, 2007

Jack and the Green Talk

The threat to his life might not be as serious, and it may not have caused quite such a global incident, but in the context of the past week it has seemed that Keys to the Kingdom, Jack O'Connor's account of his Kerry football managership was the GAA's very own Satanic Verses.

While the prophets of the county's glory years under Mick O'Dwyer got the sacrilegious treatment from a bitter O'Connor, it was the Ayatollahs of Croke Park who cried "fatwa" when the manager's claims in Keys to the Kingdom to have been "reimbursed" for lost earnings during the 2006 season were publicised.

The irony of this most sizzling of GAA hot potatoes - the illicit payment of managers - re-emerging in relation to Kerry is that the Kingdom are generally noted for not being involved in such naughtiness. The honour of managing football's premier franchise has always been considered reward enough, and the issue of payment to managers is more often associated with clubs and counties whose deep hunger for success, and even deeper pockets, lead them to seek the services of managerial mercenaries outwith their own borders.

O'Connor and Sean Walsh, the county board chairman, presented a united front on local Kerry radio yesterday, both pointing out that the reimbursement O'Connor received in return for taking half days from his teaching job came in the form of a family holiday offered at the end of the season. If so, and the honour of Kingdom football has been impugned unfairly, then it was at least a strange choice of words by O'Connor, and peculiar not to refer directly to the holiday being the compensation.

The county board's indignant response to any innuendo over illegal payments can, according to Walsh, be backed up by the detail of their accounts. Cynics will remember that the GAA's last effort to turn up hard evidence on such payments foundered, there being few county boards including the line "Manager's Bumper Salary" in their profit and loss accounts. These payments are instead often classified as travel, accomodation and food expenses, which GAA boards are allowed to pay.

The word 'hypocrisy' is dusted down whenever this issues arises, and yesterday Dessie Farrell, chief executive of the GPA, was the one calling for the discrepancy between the association's saintly stance and the clandestine reality to be redressed. "We all know that many managers at the top level, and even at club level, are being paid. So let's eradicate the hypocrisy, make allowances for what's happening and try and control it in an acceptable way. Managers have to devote so much time, effort and dedication that it has now gone to a professional level," said Farrell.

The preservation of the 'amateur ethos' is such a cornerstone of the GAA philosophy that the tendency of Croke Park to put its fingers in its ears and go "la-la-la" whenever whispers of the existence of such payments become audible is understandable. Denial is an easier option than initiating change that would fundamentally redefine what the organisation reprensents, and how it likes to perceive itself.

By establishing the principal that a person should get financial reward for participating in the association's activities, the GAA would undoubtedly provide the pathway to formal professionalism not just in the managerial ranks, but soon too amongst the elite players (who are, by the way, subject to plenty rumours of "reimbursement" themselves currently).

However, by persisting with the pretence of the GAA's amateur purity, the association are beginning to resemble the propagandists of a failing communist state, broadcasting images of rosy-cheeked youths building the socialist utopia, and ignoring the black market reality on the ground.

Initially, when news of O'Connor's statement about "reimbursement" emerged, it seemed as if the former Kerry boss was about to become a high profile agent of a campaign to take the practice of payments to managers above ground. Despite backing down on the issue, the suggestion that even the Kerry manager, probably the most prestigious job in Gaelic football, might be a part of this secret economy will surely shake the GAA's steadfastness on the matter.

Salman Rushdie might yet have to advise O'Connor of some suitable hiding places.

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Blogger Tom the Tim said...

The hypocrisy of the GAA is of Olympic standard.

Well, the old Olympic amateur status standard anyway.

3:46 p.m.  
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