MIKE QUIRKE: GAA should not see the Club Players Association as a Trojan horse

With their pitch covered in snow after Storm Emma, the Youghal intermediate hurlers took to the local beach to train.

Following the ‘bread alert’ weather warning of the past week, Allianz League games and just about every GAA pitch in the country fell victim to the unseasonably relentless snowstorm that swept over us with such vigour, writes Mike Quirke.

As the county competitions were forced to take an unscheduled hiatus over the weekend, the clubs had their preparations for the start of their own league competitions scuppered by Storm Emma.

In Kerry, our county league starts next Sunday — about a week earlier than normal.

That competition provides meaningful games, and runs like clockwork over 11 rounds with the top two sides making the final and the bottom three teams being relegated from the top division.

Our senior club championship will start and finish in the month of April and our county championship competition (which includes divisional amalgamations of junior and intermediate clubs competing against senior clubs) will begin in September.

Roughly a month ago, our club secretary received a complete set of fixtures, dates, and times for every game we’ll play up to start of the county championship in September.

I know that is not the case in every county, and while it may not seem like a big deal to some, having a defined fixtures calendar of regular meaningful games, that doesn’t get called off or moved around on a whim, is all any club player wants.

That kind of certainty allows people to plan their year with confidence. They can schedule their work, studies or training around their games’ calendar if they wish. They can book holidays and not have to worry about missing out or letting people down by cancelling a trip at the 11th hour.

A competition calendar like that makes life easier for everybody.

Now, like most other counties, we have very limited access to our county players in Kerry.

At the moment, we (Kerins O’Rahilly’s) are currently blessed or cursed — whichever way you want to look at it — to have five players involved with the senior county panel. We are obviously delighted and very proud to have such a representation but that too causes headaches.

If that representation were to remain the case for the entire season, those players would only be available to us for the club championship games in April (while not being allowed to train with us), the last round of the county league, and the county championship in September. Worst-case scenario would be that they play only six games for the club, best case would be 10 or 11.

Would I like them to play a few more county league games with their club during some of the more protracted inter-county championship breaks particularly early in the season? Absolutely.

I think it’d be good for them on a personal level to get out of the inter-county bubble for a spell, it would also be brilliant for their clubs to see them more regularly, and also great for the energy and mental freshness it could inject back into the county set-up.

Yes, they could get injured playing for their club — but they could get injured in county training just as easily.

Truth be told, I don’t have a major issue with their unavailability — I fully understand the difficulty of trying to serve two masters pulling you in opposite directions.

However, incorporating a few rounds of those ‘star’ games, with county men playing, into the club league structure down here is perhaps as close to the best-case scenario possible for club players within the current inter-county landscape.

All of which leads me to the Club Players Association (CPA) whose primary objective is achieving a defined playing calendar for club players in every county that they can trust and believe in.

It doesn’t sound like an overly-ambitious target, but once you scratch the surface you quickly start to realise the polarised differences from county to county.

In Kerry, unlike many others, the vast majority of clubs are football only and you don’t have to worry about satisfying the needs of both codes for every club.

Also, given recent history, since the inception of the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, you can predict with reasonable confidence that Kerry will most likely be competing in August at the very least. Other counties don’t have that degree of certainty when planning their club calendar.

The CPA initially tried to get nine motions on the floor of last week’s congress. Ultimately, only two made the cut and both were resoundingly defeated. I was hugely disappointed, if not overly surprised that 83% of delegates voted against motion 22, which was an attempt to bring about a healthier level of transparency and accountability within the decision making that guides our Association.

The ideals of the GAA are supposed to operate on a premise of a democratic structure. Club members on the ground inform their club delegate of which way they would like to vote on a particular issue. County board delegates are mandated by the clubs to represent the wishes of the people on the ground and relay those views at national level.

Unfortunately, and we knew long before last weekend, that system is broken and in need of repair.

The CPA wanted to bring about greater accountability whereby all votes would be recorded digitally, so as to ensure county delegates were accurately representing the wishes of their club people. Some took umbrage with this desire for transparency, as if it were some grotesque insult to those doing the shot calling. It was difficult not to be miffed at their logic.

One delegate speaking against the motion made reference to it being akin to a ‘Trojan horse’. I would have thought the opposite; the Trojan horse was clearly an underhanded ploy used to deliberately deceive an enemy.

The CPA motion was simply looking for more clarity in the process which would only have provided increased confidence in the system for all.

As an organisation, the CPA’s last reported membership figures clock in somewhere around 25,000.

That’s a large body, but, it should be much larger.

The new president and director general of the GAA are starting fresh, but they are both coming into their positions during a period of rising disquiet from many sections because of the perceived shift away from the club as the unifying identity of the Association, to a more commercialised juggernaut wrapped up in the inter-county game.

I hope to see the new GAA leadership embrace the CPA for what they are; a completely voluntary group, who receive no financial reimbursement of any kind for the work they are doing to raise awareness around the issues negatively impacting the ordinary club player and forcing many to walk away.

They are attempting to provide a long overdue voice for the marginalised majority.

I don’t believe they do this to be deliberately adversarial. It strikes me that they are doing it to try and find resolutions to the conflicts that already exist within the club structure of the Association.

They do it because every club player should be able to enjoy and rely upon a defined fixtures calendar like we already do down here.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask to sit down and talk with the key stakeholders to try and create dialogue in the hope of forming a collaboration that brings about positive and lasting change.

The CPA aren’t a Trojan horse, they are the ones looking to make the big wooden animal more see-through, not hide in its belly.


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