Brolly’s Bites - The only help is self-help

Now that the Dissidents have announced their intention to kill everybody, Padraic Duffy better get a move on and release his document on the problem of paid managers!

It was ready several months ago, but on the eve of its debut, it was mysteriously mothballed. Only the chosen few at HQ have seen it and an Omerta was taken which the Mafia would be proud of.

Christy Cooney suddenly announced at Congress last week that these payments to outside managers were “a cancer,” earning him plenty of media coverage, but in the absence of action, it is mere rhetoric.

The whole point of the GAA is participation, not winning. If it weren’t, then 26 counties could be sunk into the sea tomorrow, leaving Kerry, Kilkenny and a few others to get on with it.

Derry has a vibrant, thriving GAA community. Participation is at saturation level. Every hole in the road club boasts great facilities and large numbers of coaches. St. Brigid’s under-10s were down in Lavey recently giving Johnny McGurk’s charges a footballing lesson. Who wouldn’t marvel at what this tiny GAA community has created? Their own indoor pitch. Three floodlit outdoor fields. A bevy of fanatical coaches. But this is not unique. It is work that is recreated across the county. Yet the Derry seniors haven’t won two consecutive Championship matches for 10 years.

It’s no big deal. Some day, an unusually talented group will appear and we’ll get a few big days out in the Autumn. We won the All-Ireland in 1993, but Derry’s GAA community wasn’t depending on it. It had flourished for the previous century. The truth is that winning Sam had no long-term impact, save for the fact that everybody was ecstatic, borrowed too much from the Credit Union and drank more than they should.

The same goes for Down, where they have now gone 17 years without so much as an Ulster title. Their senior team’s hugely exciting adventure in last year’s Championship doesn’t sustain the Down GAA community. It is the other way around.

Go to Kilcoo, or Burren, or Mayobridge, or Loughinisland and you will see what I mean.

Antrim is another case in point, where the work being put in is off the charts. It is the men and women in the clubs that make the long term impact, pulling together for the common good.

Down to earth village!

On RTE radio last week, the journalist and author, Christy O’Connor, marvelled at the unfussed way Paul McCloskey is treated in Dungiven. The reason for this is that we are a down to earth GAA village.

Nearly everyone plays, coaches or participates in the life of the club. The privilege of the GAA is that Paul can lead a normal life. He wears the Dungiven colours in the ring, goes to the matches and plays a full part in community life. No bodyguards needed. No ivory towers.

Buying success is an established model in professional sport. However, the problem with bringing this approach into Gaelic football is that the most important assets, the players and the bonds of community, cannot be bought.

The secret payments in some counties are simply a bad habit. During the boom, the ‘Paddy Pigs’ in the Toyota landcruisers and the pristine high visibility vests came to believe they could buy anything - managers, coaches, even in some instances players.

A friend of mine was interviewed for a county job (not his own) by a group of contractors in a hotel. On the same night, another outside candidate was being interviewed by other contractors in a different hotel. ‘Paddy Pigs’ doling out the banks’ money, treating the GAA as their private plaything.

There is a simple way to stamp out the problem - make managerial eligibility the same as eligibility for playing. Only a club man can manage his club, only a county man his county. I have argued for this up and down the country. I have written to the great and the good and got responses along the lines of “thank you for your letter, wasn’t that a very interesting documentary on BBC4 last Thursday about the plight of the sperm whale?”

Why has the GAA hierarchy continued to pussyfoot? A simple vote in Congress would enshrine the amateur ideal, eliminating the carpetbagging industry overnight. It would take significant financial pressures off clubs and counties. With the option of outside managers removed, it will encourage self help, which in turn fosters real, lasting success.

If the GAA hierarchy is serious about it, then it can easily get the job done. Resistance at Congress is after all futile.

One victory for ‘outsiders’

The irony is that in 126 years, only one outside manager in each code has won an All-Ireland title, John O’Mahoney in football and Michael Bond in hurling.

This statistic is not about to change anytime soon. For the football, the shortlist is Kerry, Cork, Dublin, Tyrone. In hurling, the Kilkenny Tipperary two horse race looks set to transfix us again. These counties have always shunned mercenaries.

The club dynasties - Crossmaglen, Nemo Rangers, Portumna, Ballyhale etc - are similarly founded on the Association’s ideals. Bringing in an outside manager and paying him is a cop out, a quick fix. His sole concern will be short term success and he will move on for a better offer. It will never be heart and soul. It is not what the GAA is about.

Take Donegal’s success last sunday in Croke Park. It just feels good to see Jim McGuinness in charge, even if he is the most unlikely looking Gaelic football manager ever. He puts me in mind of a modern Bond villain. Hobbies? Fencing and polo.

I have an image of him when he was a student at UUJ which I will never forget, drawing up in his ultra cool Toyota Celica, before emerging with his gorgeous girlfriend. Truly, the polar opposite of Daniel O’Donnell. The point is, he is Donegal to the marrow. Regardless of where their adventure together ends, he will always be one of them. I was delighted they beat Laois with their latest outsider and their abject lack of trust in their own.

Cavan, likewise, have done their best to squander their great heritage, actively recruiting outside managers for their senior teams for over a decade, using a firm of consultants to source and interview the candidates. It is striking that their solitary success in that period is their current Under-21 team, Ulster champions and braced to contest the All-Ireland final this weekend.

Their manager? A Cavan man born and bred. The pigs must be disgusted. The county has recently produced a series of very good Minor and Under-21 teams, all coached by talented locals. As a barrister friend of mine is wont to ask the snookered witness in court: “Do you see what I’m getting at?”

Mick O’Dwyer is widely regarded as the greatest manager of them all. He has been in Wicklow for several years. What exactly does the Wicklow GAA community get in return per annum? Answer: a couple of Division Four league wins, a day out in the Championship and maybe a few in the qualifiers. What is the point?

Capitalists scorn the GAA because it is a labour of love. It is our fun, our recreation, our escape from the humdrum of work and the stresses of everyday life. Outsiders marvel at it.

After 126 years, why on earth would anyone want to screw it up?