O’Rourke’s broadside raises questions over GPA’s priorities

Colm O’Rourke is no stranger to controversy, but even he was startled by the backlash that followed his column criticising the Gaelic Players’ Association.

O’Rourke’s broadside raises questions over GPA’s priorities

Bear in mind this is the same individual who bore the hatred of every man, woman and child in Tyrone when he suggested that Brian Dooher wasn’t worthy of an All-Ireland medal.

Needless to say big O’Rourke isn’t the sensitive type, but he was still shocked by the barrage of attacks aimed at him via Twitter and other media outlets.

In last weekend’s Sunday Independent, he wrote: “In my 25 years of writing a column for this newspaper I have never experienced anything like the fallout from last week’s commentary on the GPA.”

The bizarre aspect about the whole saga is that by O’Rourke’s standards, he wasn’t overly critical of the GPA. Indeed, he recognised the range of excellent services which the players’ body provides. As a school principal, he praised the way the GPA has highlighted the importance of mental well-being. O’Rourke, however, took exception to their fund-raising efforts in America. He argued that they should devote more time to addressing game-related issues in Ireland and less time organising four-balls with their US sugar-daddies. O’Rourke stated bluntly that the players’ union “is no longer a radical body”.

The irony of the GPA’s response was quite amusing. When hitting back at O’Rourke, a fair amount of their arguments seem to agree with his contention.

We were informed that the GPA, once the master provocateurs, who were so brilliant at agitating for change, now conduct their business quietly in GAA committee rooms.

Dessie Farrell stated that the GPA “no longer engages in megaphone diplomacy”.

Nowadays, it seems the only time the GPA gets their old megaphone out is when they feel the need to shout down and intimidate anyone who dares to criticise them.

When O’Rourke’s column appeared a fortnight ago, the choreographed response entirely predictable. One player after another went on Twitter to ridicule him.

Richie Power said the column was “another example of mediocre journalism. Lack of knowledge and uninformed!”

Dónal Óg Cusack said O’Rourke’s opinions were “badly researched” and that he represented the “voice of regression”.

Ryan McCluskey thought it was a “poor article”. Aidan McCarron was “shocked”. Kevin McKernan thought the “outburst... couldn’t be further from the truth”.

Jason Sherlock, Stephen McDonnell and Ken McGrath were among others who weighed in.

Players normally don’t get too vexed about newspaper columns. Philip Jordan smelt a rat.

On his Twitter account, Jordan posed the question: ‘Did the GPA tell members to slate him (O’Rourke) on Twitter?”

Jordan’s suspicions proved to be correct. The response was actively encouraged by the GPA.

O’Rourke discovered that the GPA’s county representatives were sent a text which read: ‘Boys, Colm O’Rourke is having a serious cut off the GPA today. I’m going to send you a small graphic showing what we have done this year, anything you can twitter in response greatly appreciated! Meath Fcker!’

Of course, this isn’t exactly a new course of action by the GPA. The leadership of the body has always had a brilliant understanding of three things: money, the media and the power of the player.

With regard to the media, the GPA has been particularly skilled at silencing journalists and columnists who disagree with them. To achieve this goal, they harnessed the power of the player. I know from experience. A few years ago in the pre-Twitter era, I wrote a column which was critical of the GPA. On the day it was printed, The Irish News received a 1,000- word reply, supposedly penned by a high profile member.

My views were strongly rebuked. It was also noted that players would take grave exception to my opinions. The reply, as requested, was published in the next day’s edition.

To this day, I refuse to believe that the player in question wrote the email. But that’s another story.

The point is, the strategy was extremely manipulative. No sports reporter wants to be on bad terms with players. We interview them before and after matches.

If a respected county footballer writes an article insinuating that a journalist is essentially anti-player then it could make his job difficult.

Anyone who has any doubts on the effectiveness of the GPA’s media policy should take a rummage through the archives. Find all the articles which were critical or negative about the GPA. They wouldn’t fill a scrapbook.

But there was a reason why the fledgling GPA was so militant. As Colm O’Rourke admitted in his own column, the footballers of his era tried to organise a players’ body. But they failed. They lacked the togetherness and the organisation. They hadn’t the motivation or the stamina. Faced with the might of the GAA and the suspicions of the broader membership, they quickly surrendered. The men who founded and established the modern GPA refused to hoist the white flag. They were true zealots. They were radicals. Despite the fear surrounding pay-for-play, and the GAA’s best attempts to eradicate them, they survived then flourished.

Unable to defeat them, the GAA has more recently tried to kill the GPA with kindness. To be exact, with €1.2m worth of kindness.

Regardless of whether the GPA should have come under the umbrella of Croke Park, one issue is certain, their existence is secure and they are here to stay.

Yet, when subjected to any form of harsh appraisal, the GPA continues to react like a weak, insecure organisation that’s unsure of its footing.

The single biggest issue facing the GAA player at the moment relates to the fixtures schedule. Playing the 2016 All-Ireland club final before Christmas means county finals must be completed before the first weekend of October. To facilitate all players, the county programme must be truncated. If there is no change, there will be utter chaos. Yet, we have heard nothing on this issue from the GPA. We know that Dónal Óg Cusack is part of a working group in Croke Park. But there has been no discussion, no debate, no proposed solutions. The GAA must make difficult decisions. The League calendar needs to be streamlined, as does the Championship. To serve the best interests of its players, the GPA needs to challenge those in Croke Park who want to preserve the golden cash cows.

But Colm O’Rourke has lost faith in the GPA’s ability to effect change. He thinks the rebels have become part of the Establishment.

He claimed: “The GPA has lost its way”. He likened them to “just another GAA committee”.

The RTÉ pundit hit a nerve when he claimed the GPA was no longer a radical body.

Unfortunately, the only time they have displayed any of their old energy and venom is in the manner in which they have hit back at O’Rourke. But there was nothing radical about the way the GPA tried to round up the troops to punish a columnist for making a few negative remarks. That’s playground stuff. There was a time when the GPA could have been excused for such immature antics. But they should have moved beyond that stage now. Moreover, it was just plain stupid. A few boys on Twitter were never going to worry that particular ‘Meath Fcker’.

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