Ronan's Rant

Ronan McSherry

Up the club! Down with paid managers!


Club volunteers trying to clear Healy Park before the county final.

We could all be doing with a respite from the DUP, SF, SDLP, UUP and whatever other assortment of acronyms are on the Hill these days. Even the scandals are being compressed into initials most notably the RHI shambles. 
Sport they say is a microcosm of life and there too the world is ill divided be it corrupt boxing officials, fat cats creaming off tickets or overpaid soccer stars with loyalty to only their bank accounts. 
“For the love of money” warned the Good Book but more on that anon…
We’ll call this the ‘Week of the GAA Club.’ On Monday the CPA (more darned initials!) was launched in the Ballyboden club in Dublin. And on Friday night Gaelic Life will honour the Ulster club players of the year with All Star awards for senior, intermediate and junior men and lady footballers as well as hurlers and camogs. How’s that for equality?!  
Hopefully the Club Players’ Association will ruffle the GAA bosses into showing respect to the club player. There is a constant mantra from the hierarchy that the clubs are the heartbeat of the Association blah blah, but in reality club players are treated as second class citizens.
It is hard to be in touch with the reality on the ground when wrapped in a county bubble as King Henry Shefflin himself acknowledged after he retired and on returning to his club Ballyhale Shamrocks came to appreciate the raw deal his very own brother Paul had received for years.
Driven courageously by Monaghan Gael Declan Brennan, the CPA is primarily addressing the scheduling of fixtures where club games are treated like a nuisance box ticking exercise. Ireland has 2,319 GAA clubs yet 32 county teams take precedence when games are scheduled.
In the wet of November, Ulster club quarter finals were played simultaneously in an hour and a quarter while four Ulster championship county games in summer take four weeks to run off. Meanwhile attendance at county games are plummeting. Among the horror, clubs have won county finals on a Saturday and been told to play a provincial game the following day. I kid you not!
Last year the need for club players’ rights was brought into stark focus right here in Tyrone when the senior final was scheduled for a Friday night in October, or by the way, it’ll be on Saturday if the field is flooded! Students were expected to travel from colleges across the North while players such as barber Johnny Curran had to give up a day’s work to be mentally and physically prepared for what was the biggest game of their lives. It would not happen for important county games where players receive funding. 
Despite some paranoia in cash cow GPA circles, the CPA is about looking after club players – not having a pop at county players who, after all, start and end their playing careers with their clubs. Declan Brennan has emphasised that “the GAA belongs to us all  equally” but to paraphrase George Orwell, “Some are more equal than others.” Hopefully the CPA will be the catalyst for club players getting due respect and priority in the GAA. 
However the conundrum is that club delegates are voting in meetings that make the decisions diminishing the club players. Clubs need to look at the quality of the representatives they appoint and ensure they represent their players rather than pander to county managers or those county board and Croke Park officials whose only priority is filling the coffers. With 2,000 county players through the GPA voting on major issues, it’s time the other 100,000 club players had a voice.    
Meanwhile… ssh! Can you see it? There is an elephant in the GAA living room but few have the will to confront it. That is the scourge of paid managers doing the rounds and using the GAA to line their pockets.
While we eulogise about the spirit of the volunteer, the office holders, committee members, lottery ticket sellers, sandwich makers, jersey washers, groundsmen, underage coaches and all manner of club men and women, these ‘expert’ managers with their stopwatches, clipboards and coaching certificates are hopping from club to club as we blindly whistle, “Ah sure they’re all at it”. 
They are a bane on the GAA, a total anathema to the amateur ethos of the Association. In the clamour for success there are managers on their third and fourth clubs in as many years being appointed and paid substantial money that could be put towards the development of club facilities and youth activities. It is wrong and just because “everyone is at it” does not make it right. 
Clubs and businesses who pay these managers are misguided. We are never told what these managers are getting. Secrecy and shame go hand in hand. £15,000 – £20,000 are the whispers doing the rounds. 
An option calling for no outside club managers was defeated at the recent Tyrone AGM though the problem is more precisely ‘paid’ managers. If an outside man is willing to take it on for the challenge and love of the game (with genuine travel expenses) so be it but the mercenary money men are tearing away the very fabric of the GAA. A former Tyrone player recently suggested a coach should get at least £100 a night. With that attitude it’s time to lift the ball and go home.   
 Good luck to the CPA. Down with paid managers.

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