GPA hopeful extra cash will lead to player reimbursement

THE Gaelic Players Association has welcomed the agreement between the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI on opening Croke Park next year, describing it as a significant development in the context of the GPA’s discussions with the GAA on intercounty player reimbursement.

A GPA statement yesterday welcomed the additional revenue - up to €10 million - that will be generated by the GAA next year: “While no details of any future arrangements have been forthcoming, players now have confirmation of the GAA’s potential to add to its revenue streams. In light of our ongoing negotiations with the GAA over intercounty player reimbursements, this potential is significant.”

The GPA pointed out that it’s over ten years since the first stand in the development of Croke Park was completed and that “it’s been, primarily our county hurlers and footballers that have helped fill the magnificent new stadium. Next year we’ll share a pitch with professionals and, we believe, few will notice the difference.”

GPA secretary Kieran McGeeney said: “Because of the additional revenue next year, the GAA is now going to come under further pressure from players to address the remuneration issue and we urge the GAA to actively support our campaign to secure government funding via the sports grants scheme.

“Given the symbolism of professional rugby and soccer games going ahead at Croke Park, failure to secure funding will further alienate our members who are already greatly angered with the slow rate of progress on this issue.”

The GPA’s commercial director Donal O’Neill described the opening of Croke Park to other sports as introducing “something unanticipated.

“It’s not as if the GAA was going to go out of business,” said O’Neill, “But this is obviously surplus to requirements, you might say. It’s valid to ask the question about access to funding in some shape or form, to provide compensation.

“What we haven’t seen is evidence that the GAA is willing to address the problem. That’s an issue. Croke Park opening up is another step towards 2010 or 2011, the day when the GAA will wake up without this debt. That’ll be a great place to be, but it raises the question of where funds are allocated. The bricks and mortar have been developed, and that had to happen, but you’d have to think the only resource that isn’t being looked after is the playing resource. That’s the last asset, the one that hasn’t been developed.”

O’Neill pointed out that contrary to general belief, the GAA was capable of huge change when required.

“If you look at the situation, 15 years ago sponsorship was only just being introduced. Ten years ago - even five years ago - the notion of Croke Park opening up to other sports was unheard of. The notion of an English team playing in Croke Park wasn’t even a possibility a short time ago. The kind of enormous leap forward that opening Croke Park represents would signify that the GAA is capable of great change when necessary.”

Meanwhile, Waterford boss Justin McCarthy has been dealt a selection crisis ahead of the NHL.

Fergal Hartley’s retirement has been followed by the news that former hurler of the year, Tony Browne, is set to miss the League due to work commitments abroad.

Waterford management are hopeful that the Mount Sion star will be back in the country for their Munster SHC semi-final against Tipperary or Limerick on June 4.

All-star Ken McGrath will also miss the opening three rounds of the campaign.

He is serving out a six month suspension following his sending off in the closing stages of Mount Sion’s county semi-final against De La Salle last September.

Kilkenny’s Conor Phelan, who was told by specialists before Christmas that his career was over, may have a playing future after all.

Phelan, winner of senior and under-21 All-Irelands in 2003, will not play intercounty again, but a Harley Street surgeon has told him he can resume playing at club level.

“It’s not a brilliant diagnosis, but it is something,” the 22-year-old Clara attacker said after a recent visit to a top London cardiologist. “The news could have been better. I can have a career, but I didn’t want to be a spectator for the rest of my life.”

Phelan, a student at WIT, found out by accident that he had a defective valve in his heart when the Kilkenny players were put through a routine test last Summer when defender, Noel Hickey picked up a serious virus. The Clara player was told to give up games completely, and travelled to Harley Street as a last resort.

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