News Colm O'Rourke

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Compromise essential before grants row turns nasty

Published 05/07/2009 | 00:00

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F or the ordinary supporter it appears that the tiresome squabble between the GAA and the GPA has taken a turn for the worse. This cat-and-mouse game has gone on now for most of the decade that the GPA has been in existence.

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The only thing that is hard to figure out is which side is the cat.

As I have written in the past, there is one party which has all the power-- the players. This was clearly demonstrated in Cork when the hurlers followed the same path again. There could only be one winner, even if it took many a long time to figure that out. After that episode and all that has happened before, I can't understand the reluctance of those at national level not only to recognise the GPA but also to completely integrate them into the decision-making bodies.

Of course there are some issues to be resolved, like the funding of such a group, but it still does not mean that the GAA should not officially recognise the GPA and encourage it to be the voice of all players both at club and county level. Maybe the continued reluctance to even recognise players in an official capacity is a throwback to other days when the vast majority of top-rank GAA officials felt that players who talked too much or looked for anything were to be dispensed with as soon as possible. Their attitude was that players could come and go but they and their ilk went on, nearly for ever.

The five-year rule on holding top office has changed that. Thankfully, there are no lifetime office holders anymore but the attitude persists in some quarters that players are privileged to play for their county and should accept whatever is going. Most players do see the idea of playing at the highest level as a great honour but they won't be walked on either.

I am not privy to the nuts and bolts of negotiations but the GAA in this case remind me a bit of the manager -- and the country is full of them -- who won't ask anyone's opinion on players or seek a hand with training in case it is seen as a weakness. Of course it is a great strength to be willing to listen to others who may know players better than yourself. The best managers listen to everyone and then make up their own mind.

The GAA are a bit like that at the moment. They should be saying to the GPA that they will recognise them as the voice of the players and encourage them to represent club players as well. For that there needs to be funding and a number of full-time executives. Dessie Farrell and his staff could operate out of Croke Park but ultimately would be answerable to Paraic Duffy.

Every serious sports body in the world has a players' representative group. It is basically another committee who are partners in that sport. Partnership means compromise and that is what the GPA and the GAA would do much better if they were part of the one group, not sparring at a distance as is happening at present. Without the GPA there would have been much less progress on player welfare issues over the last ten years. Would the GAA at central level have pushed as hard for third-level grants for players or highlighted the plight of unemployed county men and set up a dedicated website or campaigned for better training gear, travelling expenses or player grants?

It is the players' grants where the GAA has tried to play both sides of the road, on the one hand they have encouraged the GPA -- which in effect is de facto recognition -- while at the same time saying that it is nothing to do with them. If Minister Cullen pulls the plug on this, it will have everything to do with the GAA and they would be better off now to make that very clear to a minister who has made a mess of most things he has been involved with.

With players of the calibre of Henry Shefflin and Sean Cavanagh backing the GPA, it has serious clout. Indeed it shows the maturity in the Tyrone camp

where Cavanagh and Mickey Harte can have very opposing views on many things without it interfering in the least with the team. This type of approach is needed now at national level. The imminent boycott of interviews with players and so on won't be a disaster as most of what is said is utterly boring and reflects players who seem afraid to mention what they had for breakfast in case it might give an advantage to an opponent.

Eventually, though, someone like Christy Cooney is better off telling all his friends at the top table that it is preferable to have these lads inside the tent piddling out than outside piddling in. He can try and smother them with kindness if he wants but it is only then that proper debate can take place and if the GPA are out of line on some issues, the top brass can deal with it.

At the moment, the Mexican stand-off is dangerous. There are enough problems for the GAA to deal with without risking a shoot-out among its own members.

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