The former Dublin footballer, who was a founding member when the inter-county representatives’ body was established in 1999, will leave his role as chief executive in December — a position he has held since 2003 — and Hickey yesterday paid tribute to Farrell for his role in advancing player recognition.
“I was introduced to the GPA during my first year on the Limerick panel in 2006 and attended the AGM in the Citywest Hotel before the All Stars in 2006.
“I wouldn’t have had an in-depth knowledge of what he had done for the GPA at that time, but I was instantly struck by his passion for players,” said Hickey.
Farrell was central to the introduction of government grants in 2007 and the GPA’s most recent agreement with the GAA, which provides €6.2m in annual funding. He also played a key role in improving relations between the players’ body and the GAA which led to formal recognition from the latter in 2010.
“Absolutely, there is no question that Dessie has been a game-changer in improving player welfare.
“No organisation is about one man and he wouldn’t like it to be about one man, but every endeavour does require leadership and without a shadow of a doubt, he has been the leader for the GPA from that first meeting in Belfast all them years ago. He has been the leader right up to the present day.
“In terms of what he has done, it is hard to look past the stroke of achieving a government grant in 2007 and 2008. That was prior to official recognition from the GAA. It was that agreement with the government and recognition of the contribution of inter-county Gaelic players to the fabric of Ireland, both at societal and economic level, that was what paved the way and expedited the relationship with the GAA and the formal recognition of that relationship with the GAA.
“We have secured Dessie in terms of a formal relationship into the New Year to help transition the role to his successor. That speaks volumes of how much the GPA means to him. He will do anything he possibly can to help transition the past to the future.”
Hickey will spearhead a three-person sub-committee charged with putting a successor in place, with the recruitment process to commence on October 9.
“From our own existence as a players association, we’ve grown from that founder-led organisation with Dessie and Dónal Óg Cusack. We had Dónal Óg’s transition last year and we have Dessie’s transition this year. We are entering a new phase so it is key that we get the right person.
“We are confident in the structures and the governance that we have established over the last few years that the new person will come into an organisation that is ready to go and won’t require the huge volume of work that Dessie had to put in to get the GPA to the point where it is.
“With Dessie leaving in December, we would ideally have an offer made by that stage but we are not tied to that. We are confident that we will make the right decision and not necessarily a fast decision.”
Farrell believes the GPA is ready for the next phase of its evolution. “It has been a tremendous honour to have led the GPA and to have served our county players over the past decade and a half. We are all extremely proud of what has been achieved in that time and I feel truly privileged to have witnessed the growth, development and success of the organisation in that period.
“I want to acknowledge the GAA for their support - the various Presidents, committee and staff members whom we have worked closely with over the years. In so doing it is important to recognise the Director General, Paraic Duffy, and thank him for his resolute support of player welfare and his genuine and honest approach in dealing with players at all times.
“I want to sincerely thank our players for their immense dedication to the games and their continued prosperity. I encourage each of you to be aware of the rest of your life outside of the game and to ensure you can operate at your personal best off the field in same manner as you strive to do so on it.”
Commented Dónal Óg Cusack, a previous GPA chairman and founding member: “It was my pleasure and privilege to have known and worked with Dessie Farrell for so many years.
“We fought many battles side by side and his passion, his integrity, his loyalty and his sense of right made the lives of all inter-county players a little easier. I owe Dessie a great debt as do, the GPA, all inter-county players and the GAA generally.”