On the day Central Council are likely to rubberstamp the new five-year official recognition contract with the GPA, O’Neill has also claimed that the agreement is “a better deal on balance for the GAA”.
However, the Armagh native’s admission that he turned down an offer from the sports giants IMG to once more lock horns with the GAA will be a warning to the Association that the new GPA agreement might not be enough to stave off the fear of professionalism.
“IMG tried to get closer to me again and perhaps take a more aggressive approach to it but I wouldn’t,” said O’Neill. “But they certainly know sport better than any other company or organisation on the planet.”
“I go back to [IMG founder] Mark McCormack’s statement on the GAA about 13 years ago now. He was asked about the GAA and professionalism and he said it would get there.
“I believe him. What format, when, how... I don’t know. But that’s the most valid opinion you’ll get. I don’t dwell on it but his was the most potent opinion I heard during my time with the GPA.”
O’Neill, who now runs an on-line gaming company in Malta, stepped down as the GPA commercial director in November 2007 after setting up the organisation in 1999. His departure was viewed in Croke Park as the removal of a major stumbling block in negotiations between the Dessie Farrell-led players body and the GPA.
However, when informed of the €8 million-plus five-year deal the GPA have signed off on, he argued the GAA had negotiated the better deal.
“If I was in Dessie’s shoes I wouldn’t be there at this point,” he said. “Once you do the deal the dynamic changes and I just don’t see long-term how it will work to the advantage of theplayers.
“I think [GAA President] Christy Cooney has done a good deal. I don’t know him but I’d take my hat off to him.”