CHRISTY COONEY has no doubt the GAA’s recognition of the Gaelic Players Association will ‘safeguard’ its future and ‘seal its cherished amateur and voluntary ethos’.
Acknowledging that the proposal to formally embrace the GPA under rule and fund their player welfare programme has not met with universal approval, he said that some of the commentary which greeted the announcement had been ‘both disappointing and disingenuous’.
He also revealed that in time, the GPA, under Dessie Farrell, would expand its role of activity to cater for the needs of players at club level. And, he rejected criticism of the presidency as a full-time position, saying that the holder of the office could not perform his duties ‘in any other way’.
In a prepared address, at the 96/103FM annual Sports Star awards presentation in Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork, he offered the re-assurance that the allocation of €1.1m to the GPA would not affect the disbursement of Games/Club development funds at central level, pointing out that the funds they had undertaken to provide ‘would be found from somewhere else!’
Saying that he didn’t need to be lectured on volunteerism in the Association, Cooney said that recognition of the players’ body – after ten years – had never been a personal crusade on the part of anyone involved.
He added: “everyone who acted on behalf of the GAA did so solely with the best intentions of the Association at heart.
“To point to a perceived lack of volunteer input to the process from our end was wide of the mark.
“No one will lecture us on the virtues of volunteers because few if any, place more importance on the single most important strand to the Association.’’
Pointing out that he had personally served as a volunteer for more than 40 years before becoming President, he said that the same could be said about Director-General Páraic Duffy.
Likewise, the other two members of the GAA negotiating committee – Feargal McGill (Duffy’s assistant) and solicitor Liam Keane (the former DRA Secretary, now chairman of the Central Hearings Committee) are both active volunteers, with McGill a playing member of his home club in Leitrim. Cooney said reference to the full-time role that has been occupied by the last four Presidents ‘missed the point and ignored the very real need for the role to be of this nature’. “The demands placed on the time of the President don’t permit it to be any other way. (But) it doesn’t mean that a full comprehension and deep appreciation for volunteerism ceases as soon as the Presidential pin is placed on a lapel.’’
Recognising that GPA recognition was proving ‘a sensitive issue’ and that people weren’t convinced that it would be ‘right’ for the Association, Cooney expressed confidence that their role ‘to give responsibility and leadership’ would be acknowledged in the coming weeks and months by the membership.
In relation to the agreement to provide funding of €1.1m. for player welfare initiatives, he explained that it would be up to the GPA to provide extensive details of ‘clearly defined programmes to draw down this funding.’
“It may not happen in year one but we wanted to send out a message that we are serious about the welfare of our inter-county players who also play an important role in the Association.
“These funds are not hand outs.
“They are not grants and they have helped us to ensure the future of the amateur status – something I would never contemplate straying from.
“The arrangement reached is a reflection of reality.
“The GPA has been with us for 10 years and in that time has overseen work to improve player welfare initiatives.
“It makes sense for us to work together to forge a relationship that will benefit all strands and sections of the Association.’’
And in the context of the proposed funding, Cooney said that an agreement for both sides to work together in pursuit of commercial opportunities had the potential to generate funds that would mean the agreement could be self-financing.
“Another key point that has to be made is the agreement of the GPA to evaluate the lot of the club player in the long term.
“It is only fair and proper that they should be given the time and space to get to grips with the new situation they find ourselves in and it would be natural to do that on the inter-county scene, the platform that they are most familiar with. This does not mean that initiatives cannot be developed after a scrutiny of the club scene – the same scene that spawns all of our inter-county players.
“Remember, our top players are all GAA members, passionate, driven and committed GAA men just like the volunteers who coached and guided them.
“Their role and contribution may differ from the legion of volunteers who underpin the GAA but their commitment to the ethos and DNA of the Association is no longer in question.’’
In reality, formal recognition of the GPA was a case of ‘moving with the times’, he suggested, in the way that the Association had not been slow to make the ‘big calls and decisions’ in the past.
“And, we will not be found wanting in making the big calls that are needed to safeguard the future of the Association – a future that is strengthened by our proposed arrangement and one that seals our cherished amateur and voluntary ethos which is so important to us all.’’
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