John Fogarty: Gaelic Players Association and its vision deserve more respect

John Fogarty: Gaelic Players Association and its vision deserve more respect
Castlemartyr captain Daragh Moran holding the trophy aloft after his side defeated Killavullen in the U21 B hurling championship final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture Dan Linehan

Readers of this column know what they can find here is a long-term and, we hope, healthy scepticism of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

There is little love here for the Super 11s — hurling is hurling — nor their exercise every autumn of putting the cap in hand in front of US-based expats who are easy marks and are already being tapped by their counties. For a 32-county organisation, Dublin still seems to benefit too much from the GPA’s work. If that is more perception than reality, they only have themselves to blame.

That being said, some of the criticism aimed at them these past couple of months has been either repetitive (when else are the GPA ever condemned but this time of year?) or deliberately misinterpreting (contrary to belief, the GAA have a major say in the GPA’s finances). It doesn’t help that the GPA made personal attacks on writers in the past — ourselves included — but there has to come a time when people move on.

Recently, GPA chief executive Paul Flynn’s line about semi-professionalism back in May was returned to with glee by some commentators. “The amateur ethos of the GAA is important and it’s important to our members,” he told The Sunday Times.

However, at the same time, when we ask our members — and we constantly survey them on issues — semi-professionalism is something that they would be interested in.

At the time, Flynn was going into funding talks with the GAA so if he might either have been mischievous ordelivering an opening gambit. As those talks continue and, like the last time, they may have possibly broken down at some stage, he has distanced himself from the remarks.

Backed by the ESRI report which highlighted the 31 hours per week some inter-county players were spending on their playing pursuits —described by GAA director general Tom Ryan at the time as sobering — the GPA appeared to have a trump card going into negotiations.

Flynn’s recent comments point to what seems like the realpolitik of the GPA. “I do have a big target to ensure the players don’t be out of pocket for what they do. That is only the reimbursement of expenses. Not being paid to play, but they don’t have to pay to play. There is a big difference.”

Indeed there is as there is a contrast between remuneration and support but the GPA’s firebrand past may be a reason why those two are conflated. In his interview with Kieran Shannon in this newspaper on Saturday, Flynn distilled the mission into one line: “Players aren’t looking for pay for play but they shouldn’t have to pay to play.”

At a time when most county chairpeople and higher office volunteers are beginning to ask themselves too if the juice is worth the squeeze, Flynn’s comments will chime with some, who will ask if county board officers and other volunteers should be acknowledged better with the same improved mileage rate as inter-county players.

If amateurism in the GAA is to be enshrined at its most visible, ie on the field of play, then it has to remain worthwhile. When expectation, demand, and standards grow, the backing players receive has to follow suit. If the amateur status is to be valued so dear, no price can be put on it but then it shouldn’t come at too dear a cost.

The GPA want to make the inter-county experience enjoyable. The competitive balance Flynn has spoken about and the motion to that effect which was passed at GPA’s AGM this year points to doing just that. Equalisation is something that GAA president Liam O’Neill strived for and we have written here before about the GAA’s need to even up the score as much as possible, be it in the form of a handicap system or pooling resources. Yet Flynn was attacked for raising the issue as if he was attempting to embody a professional sport.

The GPA’s decision last week to align themselves with the Club Players Association is not just a clever one but it feels genuine too. Allying with a group that represents all their members at their very GAA core is sensible.

It also gives them a firmer stance. At the height of GAA-GPA tensions in the 2000s, a Croke Park official told this column that the GPA’s Achilles heel was its transience. The inter-county player today will be a club one tomorrow. They can always be replaced. Contrary to the GPA’s belief and with the exception of some teams and players, it’s not on their backs that the turnstiles beep but the games themselves.

That said, it would be as cynical as it would be myopic to think the GPA isn’t necessary. If the games are to continue being played by the best exponents, if the standards are to be sustained and improved, the GPA can’t just exist: it must also be respected.

Dublin accounts don’t tell entire story

Bar a couple of housekeeping queries, hardly an eyebrow was raised about Dublin GAA’s 2019 accounts at last Thursday’s annual convention in Parnell Park.

That’s not to say there was chatter among delegates about some of the figures. A total of €2.17m was raised from sponsorship outside of that issued to Dublin by GAA, an increase of almost €800,000. Obviously, association with a five-in-a-row chasing team was lucrative but there is good reason to believe there was a major bonus for attaining the previously unattainable built into the agreement with primary sponsors AIG.

On a few occasions on Thursday, commercial and marketing manager Tomás Quinn was congratulated for his work and on the basis of those handsome figures rightly so. As the likes of Wexford in the form of Éanna Martin have demonstrated, making such appointments is beginning to produce significant dividends.

As believable as Dublin’s €2.17m figure was, one figure wasn’t — the fundraising total of €88,445, which was up from €67,503 the year before. Bear in mind Roscommon raised €1,135,072 this past accounting year but even subtracting their “Win a House” initiative which brought in €943,400 they still brought in approximately two and a half times as much as Dublin in fundraising.

As is the case with every All-Ireland winning county, members of the outgoing Dublin management and panel have made several fundraising trips to the US over the last few months. Indeed, there have been a number of similar events in the capital too with Friends of Dublin Football, which claim to be fully endorsed by the Dublin County Board.

Needless to say, the amounts brought in were not among those cited in the first floor of the county offices last week. Perhaps they reduced the team administration expenses to €1.37m but for sure the available figures didn’t tell the whole story.

Whole new ball game is right step

Elsewhere on this page, we mention the Super 11s in a poor light but at least they and the laudable Celtic Challenge provided a testing ground for the standardised yellow sliotar set to come our way next summer.

Reaction to the news of the ball has been mixed but the reasons are undoubtedly credible. There is the ethical one in avoiding more balls being produced as a result of child labour. The yellow makes sense for score and play detection reasons but standardising the ball is also necessary for the integrity of the game.

In 2006, we conducted research on three officially-approved sliotars. The Cummins brand, when pucked with maximum force, reached an average of 130 yards. The Mycro ball went 119 yards and the O’Neill’s brand 113.

Current Dublin goalkeeper Alan Nolan, who carried out the testing, said: “If you have that (Cummins) ball in your hand you’re definitely in control of things. But you just don’t know when you’re going to come across a Cummins in a game. Teams are using all sorts of brands. The sooner one ball is used in every minute of the game, the better.”

Nolan also spoke of the ridges on the Cummins’ ball being smaller than the other two and for that reason, being able to make contact with more of the leather, the better accuracy he had with it. GAA director of games Pat Daly has spoken of a future when the sliotar will be ridge or rimless but for now the new ball is a wise step.

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