By John Cuffe
The years change, punctuated only by the blinding consistent incompetence of the various boards. Like the cuckoo clock of my childhood, a mystery of how the cuckoo got into it, the Mayo County Board holds that same mystery. How does one get on it? Democracy? To a point, in as much as the average club delegate actually gives a toss. Like the deckchairs on the Titanic, the endurance of the lifers is prolonged by simple movement but the ship is heading for the iceberg.
Keith Duggan mused about the men of 1950 and ’51. Were they a one-off, an aberration that swam against the tide of mediocrity that filters down from the top of Mayo football all the way back to Noah’s time? A team trapped in a time warp, an albatross that mocks the county year in year out, not Green and Red, but men in black and white who mock our incompetence as we listen to bullshit about ‘The Curse’.
The curse is real alright but it’s a curse of incompetence that’s woven into the fabric of this great county.
So, how does one become an official on a County Board? Firstly, let me debunk the volunteer myth and bullshit. Even Mother Theresa had a political agenda. People become officials and board members because of that primal human trait, the need to be relevant. It’s all wrapped up in power, respect, standing and status. By the way, all perfectly normal and if you don’t possess that, don’t stand in the way of progress. We need ambition.
What we don’t need is layer after layer of incompetence and bluster. Look at Dublin GAA, John Costello and the Blue Wave, and look at Mayo GAA, find the shredded Strategic Review document and weep. Motivation for high office can be stoked by various emotions. There’s the lad who was the last boy picked for the village team. Others arrive along the political route. Overlooked for party politics, they see power via the GAA. That way their influence is translated into something tangible; their voice matters.
Others see an association with GAA board power, especially in a successful county, as the guy other people come to when that precious ticket or endorsement is needed. With ‘want’ comes a quid pro quo. Payback is stored to be dialled down as and if when needed. Business and the GAA world intersect. So if you sit on a board of a sporting behemoth like Mayo, you sure as hell drive a Formula One car in the corporate/sporting arena. You are the guy who business needs to coax, cajole, wine and dine. Many big business decisions are made in Mount Juliet or The K Club. Many decisions likewise are viewed and finalised via the GAA association.
AIB, Guinness, Bank of Ireland, Tesco, Lidl, AIG and Joe the Chimney Sweep see the GAA as the way to reach into the people’s hearts and pockets. It’s big business and if you are a facilitator and the go-to guy within the County Board, heck, you are a mainline player, a guy that nobody f**** with. But one thing being involved at County Board level is not about, and that is volunteerism.
Mayo people, as distinct from a corp who rule our county GAA structures, need answers. And the answers we need are a definitive breakdown of our financial position. I have absolutely no doubt that all stakeholders and players within the county would welcome an independent audit going back to the start of the elephant-in-the-room era, the cost of the new stand in MacHale Park. From that will emanate our pathway forward.
We cannot sustain another 10 years of the county haemorrhaging €30k per month to Croke Park for a debt we aren’t sure how was accrued. We owe it to the little clubs, the Kilfians, the Moygownaghs, the Ballycastles, the Glenamoys, the little guys, the lifeblood of communities who deposit yearly over €10k to the County Board before they buy a size 5. We cannot continue to rely on interested businessmen to buy footballs for our clubs. Imagine €30k per month going into club coaching instead of to Croke Park? It’s time we went business class rather than steerage and working with a lit candle. Time to power-hose the entire set up and if that means everyone must go, then so be it. The one thing we cannot do is to continue like we are. The FAI are trying the Harry Houdini with that one.
Dan O’Neill won his All-Ireland with Louth in 1957. Seamus O’Donnell was on that team too. John Nallen lined out with Galway in the 1959 All-Ireland final. All three won National League medals with their native Mayo two years earlier. O’Neill left because the bean-counters on the County Board refused to reimburse him the travel from Dundalk to Castlebar for matches. Ditto O’Donnell. The men of 1950 and ’51 had three readymade replacements that should have kept us winning Sam; what we didn’t have was an executive to match.
After Mayo’s last hurrah for the 1948-55 men, the County Board hadn’t even transport laid on for their team. Mick Mulderrig took a lift to O’Connell Bridge on the Dublin bus and never wore the county jersey again. With two All-Ireland medals, two National League medals and five Connacht medals in his back pocket, he stepped into history at the age of 25 on that gloomy O’Connell Bridge, not thanked, not respected. His winning medal in 1951 was posted Christmas week to his house without even a note within.
The late Eamon Mongey, at a Western People function many years ago, stated the truth regarding the County Board. “What we achieved was despite them, not because of them and nothing I have seen in the intervening years would cause me to change my mind”. The sentiments of Mongey, twice an All-Ireland winner, a barrister and senior court official, are as relevant today as back then.
Mulderrig and Mongey made history and left us an almost impossible bridge to cross. Both men left no one in doubt as to where the weak link was in the Mayo fabric. It wasn’t the players, it wasn’t the supporters but it was the executive, men miles out of their depth, drowning and taking the entire county down with their incompetence.
Soon, the County Board meets. The county and its clubs have a choice. It’s actually simple. The right thing will be done or not. Nobody needs me to go through the current issues. Whether the tail wags the dog or the dog wags the tail is not the question. The question is this. Who owns the dog? And once that ownership is defined, then the county will travel the road with the two forks. We already made a decision regarding the Mayo Strategic Review in 2011. Dublin went one road, we chose the road less travelled. We are back at that crossroads again. Rarely does fate give a second chance. Will Mayo grab it?