Mike Quirke: I can see the CPA as a facilitator, not an agitator

Listening to some of the stories from other lads at that first meeting in Croke Park, it quickly became apparent that issues with club fixtures vary hugely from county to county, writes Mike Quirke.

Old-school rhetoric tells us the club is the cornerstone of the GAA, and the club player is its lifeblood. Without over-indulging in hyperbole, reality suggests that would no longer seem to be the case.

The first I heard of the Club Players Association was when I took a phone call from a guy called Declan Brennan. He asked me if I was willing to travel to Croke Park a few weeks later for a get-together to see if there was enough appetite to get a representative club players body off the ground.

The idea appealed to me immediately. I had never crossed paths or even heard of Declan Brennan before that initial call. A former Monaghan selector, coupled with years spent coaching at club and colleges level had sharpened his appreciation for a need to act.

He managed to gather about 20-30 people for a ‘think-tank’ in Dublin with a lot of former inter-county guys in the group. Three and half hours of talking in circles in that first meeting didn’t fill me with confidence, but the collection of opinions had served its purpose – the Club Players Association was born.

In the days after, as a few names of people who had attended the meeting seeped into the public domain… a perception of ‘jobs-for- the-boys’ emerged. Nothing could have been further from the truth. From the outset, it was clear there would be no travel expenses or expenses of any kind for helping this fledgling organisation. There would be no salaries or paid positions coming down the line. This was a voluntary group who were providing their time and services in the spirit of the association, and for the good of the many, as opposed to just the few.

The over-arching aim of the CPA is to attempt to provide a voice for the voiceless. To listen to those ‘ordinary joe’ club players and try to affect change on their behalf. They want meaningful games in a fair and unchangeable calendar at a time of year more suitable to run off their leagues and championships, rather than the all too prevalent end of year blitz to just tick a box and get provincial representatives for the county.

Of course, the desire of club players to get a more appropriate playing calendar isn’t mutually exclusive from the growing angst among county players to condense their own playing season.

From personal experience, some of the very best of times I had involved with Kerry came when we found ourselves travelling through the back door. Game after game coming at you thick and fast.

Conversely, those 4-8 week breaks in between championship games are nightmarish for the inter- county player. Nobody wants them, and they have a hugely destructive effect on the club game.

Listening to some of the stories from other lads at that first meeting in Croke Park, it quickly became apparent that issues with club fixtures vary hugely from county to county. And maybe that is a keyproblem that needs tackling – there are too many captains of too many ships, all blindly plotting their own course, direction and speed. In Kerry for example, we don’t have it too bad, Armagh the same. The other end of the spectrum includes dual counties like Cork and Galway among others, are a minefield – incendiary devices at every turn.

Last year was my first year involved in the management of my own senior club side - Kerins O’Rahilly’s - which automatically heightens your senses to various fixture permutations. At the beginning of the season we got our schedule of games for the year, and outside of one game, which we ourselves changed, each game took place as it was scheduled. Players could book holidays, weekends away or whatever they wanted to do with confidence they wouldn’t miss a big game.

They could actually live a life away from the football club. In other counties, that’s not the case. You have to make a choice; football or life.

GAA Director General Páraic Duffy continues to try and bring about meaningful change and his proposals that are set to go before congress this year are yet another nod to the need that something must give. Everybody knows change is needed, nobody knows yet what form it will take.

Last week, the CPA came out and boldly asked Duffy to defer his proposal to allow them more time to formulate a more co-operative strategy aimed at solving the problem for the longer term, as opposed to having to come back and re-visit it again next year in a sort of drip-fed procedure that may only delay progress and prolong the problems that exist.

It remains to be seen how it will all play out, and ultimately, the CPA have said they are not an adversarial organisation and want to help bring about change through co-operation with all the key stakeholders.

They are not about strikes or calling for people to down tools. It’s about helping the people who need it to get the balance which most fair-minded people want to see Gaelic games return to.

I see the CPA as a facilitator, not an agitator. I hold no position within the new association, but I was more than happy to register as a member. If it achieves nothing else, the CPA has already forced more in-depth discussion and succeeded in shining an even brighter light on the plight of modern club player who now apparently find themselves trapped inside a crevice.

At the moment, the CPA are making a big push to get as many people to register as members as possible at www.gaaclubplayers.com. It is completely free and takes approximately 60 seconds to do.

There’s really no excuse not to. Instead of bitching and talking about the problems, you are now being presented with the opportunity and the mechanism to be an active agent in that real pursuit of the solutions to bring about positive change for the association. Club players make up over 95% of the playing population of the GAA, it’s about time they spoke up for themselves.

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