MIKE QUIRKE: GPA slow to the ball in fixtures fiasco as players are left hanging

As the unseasonal weather played havoc with Sunday’s Allianz League games — and threw the fixtures schedule into a complete heap — there was an understandable degree of frustration and disgruntlement amongst players and supporters.

With the even more condensed early season format this year, there is a much tighter window available to get these matches played.

However, the uncertainty surrounding re-fixtures over the past 48 hours was ridiculous and insulting in so many ways.

Obviously, the GAA cannot be held accountable for the inclement weather, but the past month has highlighted the inadequacies of a system that tries to pack so many games into a time of year which is most susceptible to such conditions. The logic just doesn’t stack up.

With the overlap between club, third level, and inter-county competitions from January to March, there was always going to be a higher propensity for collisions and casualties.

Late on Sunday evening, some counties whose games were called off, were still unsure if their Monday re-fixture was going to stick.

Take the Galway and Wexford hurlers as a case in point. After the snow claimed a victory on day one, their game was originally refixed for Monday at 2pm in Wexford Park.

Just before 6pm on Sunday, word filtered through that the same venue was deemed unplayable for Monday and the teams were waiting on GAA chiefs to confirm an alternative venue at the same time.

Shortly before 7pm, the game was officially postponed until next weekend. Just think about all of that from the players’ perspective for a minute. You’re annoyed at the game being scratched but it is out of your control so you get over it and put the head down again.

Then you hear it is fixed for a Bank Holiday Monday. Cue fury. Perhaps you had plans made with your girlfriend, wife or family on your ‘free day’. Perhaps you were due at work. Perhaps you just wanted to enjoy a rare Bank Holiday. So you set about re-arranging your plans because of the re-fixture... and then the message come through later on Sunday night - ‘forget about it lads, the game is off’.

I know it is not life and death but it’s a serious inconvenience and if we don’t learn from these things, history is just going to keep repeating itself.

Between all the confusion on Sunday, some players took to social media to vent their displeasure with the calamity that was unfolding.

They had every right to do so in my opinion. But I couldn’t for the life of me understand why people weren’t asking serious questions of the body specifically funded and responsible for representing the welfare of those same players.

I want to be clear here, I’m not one of those who feels that the GPA is just some parasitic entity more interested in generating finance than working for its members. There is no doubt that they have improved the lot of the inter-county player.

The increase in mileage expenses, the players charter which ensured minimum gear requirements, as well as the more recent funding including the food allowance and so on have all been steps of improvement in the way the players are treated.

The GPA have also been to the forefront in highlighting mental health awareness in this country. Their campaigns have been ground-breaking and brought issues like depression and gambling addiction out of the shadows and have helped to create more of an empathetic environment where players and the wider society feel more empowered to talk about issues affecting them.

While it may not be what you would immediately associate with the work of a players’ representative body, the GPA took the lead and added huge weight to a positive culture shift in this country toward our perceptions of mental health.

And for all of that work they deserve huge credit and praise.

But on the other side of the coin, I feel they have been passively neglectful when it has come to issues like we’ve seen impacting on their players in the past few months due largely to the new compressed playing calendar.

They were all too silent for my liking when the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon cup competitions were giving young inter-county players too many masters to serve, and again last weekend, I was disappointed with their radio silence before they released a statement after midnight on Sunday.

In that the document they outlined that they “will be supporting a number of squads who have outlined their commitment not to fulfil their fixture tomorrow (Monday) due to players’ unavailability. We have this evening contacted the GAA outlining our support for these squads and requesting the CCCC find an alternative arrangement for these games”.

I found it strange that more players, or any players for that matter, weren’t coming out demanding their union step in and advocate more aggressively for their best interests.

Obviously, they were doing it through the proper channels and I was delighted to see the GPA come out (eventually) and stand with their players and get stuck into it.

If I was a union member working in a factory job somewhere, and I was unhappy with my conditions, or the lack of notice I was getting about my work schedule, I’d be contacting my rep and telling him to get it sorted as a matter of urgency.

That’s their job. That’s what they get paid to do, to protect my interests.

If I was an inter-county player stuck in the middle of the mess that presented itself in the past few days and months, instead of the questioning the GAA, my ire would first be directed at the body established to represent me.

Fixtures are the single biggest problem facing the future of the association, both the structure and timing are hugely divisive issues and the GPA must become a stronger advocate for change in that regard.

But like they did this past weekend, their members must demand them to act.

Back in 2016, they proposed a change to the structure of the championship that failed to even make it to Congress. It was smacked down and thrown in the bin.

There is no doubt, that since the GPA have become more substantially funded by the GAA, the public perception of them has changed (whether rightly or wrongly) and that it is now harder for them to make as much of a racket from inside the big tent.

I’m hopeful that is not really the case. But I would also strongly suggest that players and county squads continue to do as they did last Sunday and start demanding more from the GPA.

The players need to push them to take steps to ensure that lessons are learned and that the association starts to defend their members from the front instead of from behind.


Lifestyle

RP O’Donnell says it is hard to find anywhere better than Boston to show your family a great time as he returns to a city he used to call homeA family friendly holiday guide to get the best out of beautiful Boston

More From The Irish Examiner