Seamus Hickey takes the reins at GPA

The new chairman of the Gaelic Players Association fields an obvious point early in the conversation.

Did an organisation so closely identified with some key personalities need a change at the top?

“The likes of Dónal Óg and Kieran McGeeney, Dessie Farrell, and Peter Canavan,” says Seamus Hickey, “The work they all did to get the GPA to where it is today — the point where it’s a recognised body in the GAA and where millions are being invested in the welfare of inter-county players — it’s incredible when you think about it, the fact that you had five or six intercounty players in a room saying, ‘We’ve to do something about this’.

“I think it’s about time the next generation stood up and were counted because, in my opinion, we’ve been very well taken care of for the last 16 years and we’ve had phenomenal figureheads and leaders.

“On and off the field they’ve shown us what it is to be an inter-county player, and it’s about time the rest of us stood up.”

The Limerick hurler isn’t long in the job and is already hearing plenty of criticism of the GPA from all quarters.

Hickey, an engineering researcher in UL, responds calmly. “There’s a couple of ways to take that — I’m disappointed with the narrative around the GPA recently because I feel so much of it is misinformed, and so much of it is sparring without the requisite knowledge backing it up.

“That’s what gets at me.

“I’ve heard our scholarship programme questioned as being for the chosen few, for instance — there have been over 3,000 third-level scholarships given out since the inception of the programme.

“I’ve been on that committee dealing with that and we’ve bent ourselves backwards trying to find funding for everybody, not a select few.

“It’s not about what county you’re from, it’s whoever we can help. Comments about that get my ire up, but when I take a step back and take a wider view of the discourse, I can also see a healthy questioning of what we do.

“I don’t think for a second we’re above questioning, that we’re beyond reproach, and I encourage our members to look at what we’re doing, and if it’s not doing what they want, well, it’s their association and they can do what they want with it. That’s why I don’t buy into the talk that we’re not representing our players, or their voice isn’t being heard.

“We submit proposals, we sit on committees — you have to go through the avenues that are there. As players we have a value and I’d like to see inter-county players recognised for their value and strength in the game, and it’s up to us how to use our value and power as players. That’s what a player association is for.

“No matter what sport you look at around the world, the player association has collective bargaining if it’s a pro sport. But what it boils down to is the value of the player and what the players determine as their value. We’ve done that consistently and I can see us doing that a lot more in the year and years to come.”

Hickey sees a buy-in, then, from inter-county players when it comes to the GPA?

“Absolutely, and an appreciation for and respect for it. I think it’s more and more recognised among the players, what the GPA does,” he says.

“In terms of ownership, that could definitely improve in the near future. As I say, we’ve been very well taken care of, and led by incredible figures who had a vision for the GPA and went about and did it — but we need more people to put their hands up to say, ‘This is our player association and this is how I see it going’.

“You don’t have to have everyone singing the same tune, and an alternative view is as welcome as any. Challenging thinking challenges people to reflect on their own position; if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.

“That’s important, and it requires this generation of players to make their voices heard, and that’s something I’d like to see coming through into the future.”

They don’t have to make their voices heard on after-training meals any more, though Hickey doesn’t take that progress for granted.

“I’d be in favour of staying on top of the fundamentals, and ensuring that the things we fought for, the players’ charter and so on, that all of those work,” he says. “The meals after training, mileage, all of that — let’s not take that for granted either, they might be relatively small things but they’re important, and they’re probably more important to some guys than to others.

“Aside from that, we’ve gotten to a stage where we’re in a very good place, we’re very well taken of, and, as I say, that’s due to the GPA leadership.

“But the modern game has changed so much in the last 15 years or so, it’s become a second career, and managing those dual careers is the priority of the GPA at this stage.

“It’s a privilege and an honour to play for your county. There’s no question about that. The reason I get up every day and have a healthy breakfast, and do my stretches to get myself right after the previous night and to be right for the following night — that’s all to be ready for a date in June in Semple Stadium and the possibility of winning a game for Limerick. That doesn’t change.

“But what it requires has changed over the years, and especially the younger cohort — when you look at the demographics in the GAA you see a lot of younger guys in intercounty squads, and balancing work and life; that’s the focus of the GPA at the moment, and that’s where it needs to be.

“I think the GPA will evolve with the needs of the players and take care of needs as they arise, because Irish society has changed, too. What it means to be a young adult male has changed generally, and the GPA has an obligation to lead and to support all players, young and old.”

I don’t think for a second we’re above questioning or beyond reproach

Finding leaders of the future

Maynooth University yesterday announced the accreditation of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) Jim Madden Leadership Programme, designed to develop leadership skills among county Gaelic football, hurling, ladies football, and camogie players.

The Leadership Programme is individually tailored to athletes performing at an elite level, with each student working with a professional life coach, addressing their development needs and helping them reach their personal goals.

The students will attend workshops in personal development, interpersonal skills, and group skills, designed to assess their leadership strengths and weaknesses.

They also will attend a series of leadership masterclasses with experts from business, community, and sport which are designed to explore the critical behaviours, attributes, and capabilities that foster key leadership skills.

The accreditation pathway, leading to a qualification in professional leadership, will be offered through the Department of Education at Maynooth, and has been designed to complement and enhance the student experience.

Dermot Earley, president of the GPA, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the GPA Madden Leadership Programme, now entering its second year, will now have this additional accreditation pathway from Maynooth University.

“It forms part of the accreditation partnership between Maynooth University and the GPA and I’d like to thank Professor Nolan and his team for making this happen.

“As well as welcoming Year 2 of Madden participants we are also honouring the first group of graduate players from the Madden Programme today — a very proud occasion for the GPA and the Madden family — and the announcement by Maynooth is a significant boost for everyone involved, particularly the players participating in the course.

“The Madden Programme provides a fantastic opportunity for players to enhance their personal development.”

Maynooth University yesterday announced the accreditation of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) Jim Madden Leadership Programme, designed to develop leadership skills among county Gaelic football, hurling, ladies football, and camogie players.

The Leadership Programme is individually tailored to athletes performing at an elite level, with each student working with a professional life coach, addressing their development needs and helping them reach their personal goals.

The students will attend workshops in personal development, interpersonal skills, and group skills, designed to assess their leadership strengths and weaknesses.

They also will attend a series of leadership masterclasses with experts from business, community, and sport which are designed to explore the critical behaviours, attributes, and capabilities that foster key leadership skills.

The accreditation pathway, leading to a qualification in professional leadership, will be offered through the Department of Education at Maynooth, and has been designed to complement and enhance the student experience.

Dermot Earley, president of the GPA, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the GPA Madden Leadership Programme, now entering its second year, will now have this additional accreditation pathway from Maynooth University.

“It forms part of the accreditation partnership between Maynooth University and the GPA and I’d like to thank Professor Nolan and his team for making this happen.

“As well as welcoming Year 2 of Madden participants we are also honouring the first group of graduate players from the Madden Programme today — a very proud occasion for the GPA and the Madden family — and the announcement by Maynooth is a significant boost for everyone involved, particularly the players participating in the course.

“The Madden Programme provides a fantastic opportunity for players to enhance their personal development.”


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