Cusack says GPA ‘never busier’ with player issues

GPA chairman Donal Óg Cusack has revealed that the Association has “never been busier” in dealing with issues ranging from depression to gambling amongst GAA players.

Speaking at the launch of a GAA/GPA Freestyle Hurling joint hurling initiative the former Cork All-Ireland winning goalkeeper lifted the lid on some of the troubles facing intercounty footballers and hurlers.

“The GPA have never been busier,” he admitted. “They’re working hard in the areas of career development, health and well-being of our players.

“We’ve got a 24-hour help-line set up that players can call. Now I’m not going to tell you the figures of the people that are contacting (us) that but that’s there.”

Cusack praised Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara, who bravely went public about his battle with depression last May and expressed hope that the example he set will help others to seek help and assistance.

“Alan O’Mara, that article that man did in terms of speaking about his own situation (battling depression), that was very powerful.

“I’m not going to speak about individual cases or numbers but there’s been club players who’ve said, ‘look, we’ve got a serious issue, we know we’re not members of the GPA’. And no question, that service was there for them.

“It’s in the bottom of all our e-mails about the 24-hour helpline. You know how hard it is for a person to take the first step but by having it in all our correspondence, if it’s only one fella that it reaches, we’ll be happy.”

Gambling has also become a major problem in society generally, and the GAA is not immune to its impact according to Cusack.

“Gambling is a big issue,” he agreed. “Watching things the way they changed over my career, what I couldn’t get over near the end of it was how gambling became part of the discussion. People are talking about the game or they’re talking about some other sport and they’re saying, ‘this guy is whatever (odds)’. People talking about games and odds have become part of the narrative. That’s another area where there are structures in place, professional people that are paid to deal with that.”

Yet another major challenge both the GAA and the GPA is the battle against performance enhancing substances which have created havoc in athletics and cycling in recent years.

Drug-testing is part of the inter-county set-up and so far the GAA has emerged unscathed. However Cusack warned against complacency.

“We definitely don’t have a culture (of doping) but education is the key.

“First of all what is legal and what is not — I dread the day we get that phone-call when a player tells us he has a problem with something, that he’s after getting a letter in the door and it’s not to say that he’s clear.

“We have a procedure in place of what will happen next but still I dread that day, because of the uniqueness of the GAA but also that it’s so high profile. People have to go back into work, whatever.”

The risk, remote though it might be, is still very real.

“It would be naïve of any sporting organisation in the world to think that there isn’t the potential for something like that to happen. And again, it’s a big part of what the GPA has been doing over the last couple of years, delivering as much information as possible, trying to warn players of the potential pitfalls.

“We’ve seen what happened with the sprinters in Jamaica, it’s a very complicated area. But like gambling, education is the key, and that’s where our focus must be.”

Meanwhile Cusack has dismissed the end of an era talk surrounding Kilkenny following their Championship exit to Cork on Sunday in Semple Stadium.

“Kilkenny dominated the game for the last 13 years but every dominance of every sporting team comes to an end — the Roman Empire dominated for over 1,000 years then disappeared.

“It will be very hard for Kilkenny to keep that level of dominance over the next few years but if you were a betting man — and I’m not — would you bet against Kilkenny next year? I wouldn’t.

“I think it’s fantastic to see the semi-final line-up we have ahead of us, and that’s no disrespect to Kilkenny. Everyone feels it’s great for hurling — of course it is but Kilkenny brought the game of hurling to this intensity.

“I’m glad to see the semi-final line-ups we have — look at the championship we’ve had, nearly every game was entertaining. And the skills — I think our players are getting better.

“Podge Collins, the skill the guy has. In a high intensity game (Clare v Galway last Sunday), under pressure, he transferred the hurley from his right hand to his left whilst he was transferring the ball from his left hand to his right and hand-passed it to a guy seven or eight yards from him. If Jackie Chan did that they’d be making films about it in Hollywood!”


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