Seamus Hickey: Unfair to focus on players in club v county struggle

GPA chairman Seamus Hickey has defended the body amid suggestions that it should have been stronger in calling for players to ignore requests to train with their counties until the window set aside for club action has closed.
Seamus Hickey: Unfair to focus on players in club v county struggle

Seamus Hickey: “It really is a cross-GAA culture that has to be changed and placing all of the responsibility on the player to make the decision is the same as two managers of a hurling and football code fixing training for the same night and telling the player to choose.” Picture:  Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

GPA chairman Seamus Hickey has defended the body amid suggestions that it should have been stronger in calling for players to ignore requests to train with their counties until the window set aside for club action has closed.

The players' association released a statement at the start of July highlighting the agreement that no collective inter-county training was permitted before September 14th but added that any sessions sanctioned prior to that by a county board should be covered by the GAA injury benefit scheme.

What it didn't address was their stance on those counties that chose to ignore the rules in the first place and force their players into a 'them or us' scenario. 

That only added to the widespread confusion and double-speak engaged in by the GAA hierarchy itself at the time.

Hickey believes it "unfair" to focus on the players and believes the solution to this most intractable of entanglements begs a wider scope.

“There seems to be a widespread responsibility placed on the player without looking at the cultural norm that exists in the GAA and has existed as long as I’ve played and even before it,” said the former Limerick defender.

It really is a cross-GAA culture that has to be changed and placing all of the responsibility on the player to make the decision is the same as two managers of a hurling and football code fixing training for the same night and telling the player to choose.

This, he said, was an issue which needs a collective buy-in. 

From the GAA high and low, from inter-county managers and from the GPA as well. GPA CEO Paul Flynn doubled down on his take that players finished with their clubs should be allowed engage in county activity prior to September 14.

“There is a player welfare element to this,” Flynn argued. 

“As much as they are club players they are county players too. They need to prepare accordingly for the inter-county scene. 

"It is an extra ten minutes, it is a higher intensity and you need to be conditioned to be ready for that and that is important from a player welfare and injury prevention perspective.”

Flynn accepted that the press release issued at the start of the month did not go down well with some and if this wider episode reinforces anything other than the yawning divide between club and county then it is the image problem which the GPA has been unable to shake.

Few would quibble with their overarching goal of bettering the lives of their membership on or off the field of play but there was discernible annoyance among their brains trust prior to last night's online AGM as to perceptions of their role.

“I still don’t believe that people understand what our three pillars are of player representation, player welfare and player development,” said Flynn who lauded the body for its part in opening his own eyes and widening his abilities and off-field options as a young player.

“And a good example of that is recently in relation to sanctions around non-compliance with windows. We aren’t in the sanctions game, our role is under the 'Three Ps'. 

"Yes, we have a voice but I do feel there’s a misinterpretation about all the elements of what we do.”

The GPA did call on county boards not to sanction any training sessions for their representative squads four weeks ago but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there to say that some have ignored such pleas. 

The same could be said of the early days in lockdown.

Clearly, there will always be some willing to bend or break the rules when it comes to preparing inter-county squads and the pressures on the players have been well documented via an ESRI report which found that the average time spent on games by players per week is 31 hours.

Another finding of note in recent times is the 40% of players who admit to having no off-season and two of the three motions at last night's GPA AGM addressed this lack of balance in the life of an inter-county player.

One called for the development of a GPA workgroup to come up with an 'optimal player contact time' for their members based on the various reports detailing their workload. The other was the development of a 'GPA Confidential Disclosure' platform.

This would help monitor squad adherence to the off-season and the genesis of the idea was formed when Flynn met with Don Davis from the NFL's player body at the Balance 2020 conference run by the GPA last year.

“I liked the model of it and felt it was suitable for reporting for our off-seasons,” said Flynn who reiterated his belief that Dublin always trained less, but smarter, than others under Jim Gavin. 

“Players are crying out for an off-season, that’s one fact. And it gives them an opportunity to report if there is non-compliance with the off-season window.

“One of the key strategic initiatives from my perspective is to deliver on an off-season for inter-county players. 

"It goes back to the idea of sustainable amateurism and back to the foundation of what we should aim to achieve in the GPA, to bring that balance in the players’ personal professional and physical life.”

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