'Competition windows' can ease burden on third level inter-county players, says GPA
Change often comes slow in the GAA and Dessie Farrell knows it.
The GPA's report released yesterday entitled 'Never Enough Time' wasn't the most radical piece of work but then it probably couldn't afford to be if it was to gain any traction in Croke Park.
What the report does achieve to shed some light on exactly what is being asked of the most vulnerable group of inter-county players - those who are pulled in different directions by senior and U-21 county teams as well as playing and studying in their third-level institution.
Over the years various suggestions have been made at how best to ease the burden on this group but Farrell believes they now have real insight into their plight. Or, as author of the report Aoife Lane, who also doubles as chairperson of the WGPA, put it, they move "from anecdote to fact".
"They are not very assertive this group," Farrell said. "They are young lads trying to make their way on the senior county team and many of them are just in the door in the GPA too and probably wouldn't be too familiar with the operation is or what support is available to them.
"And they don't tend to be want to be rocking the boat at college level. In many ways they are quite a subdued group. And one of the themes of our workshops was to empower this group, to take ownership, to engage rather than let these things exist outside of their control." The report shows that 69pc of the GPA's student members play for three teams or more while in college and centres around ensuring that is reduced. In essence, adjustments to the calendar would aim to see players lining out for one team at any time.
Specific details were short on the ground but the start date of National League competitions would be pushed back about a month. Third-level competitions would be rounded off by mid-February with colleges withdrawn from subsidiary competitions.
"One of the elements of this report is really important as a potential solution. You actually have the competition window so that if I'm a Sigerson player, for that window from end of January to middle of February, all I do is train and play with the college.
"At weekends you might make allowances to play with the county team, U-20, 21 or senior. But during the week you're not being requested to travel to training sessions."
None of those changes would require approval from Congress and would only need the nod from the top brass in Croke Park.
They are in the process of producing their own report on the issue around fixtures and whether a move to a 12-month calendar is workable. Farrell is adamant that their proposals wouldn't hinder that move.
What would require a Congress vote would be the proposal to change to the U-21 grade to an U-20 competition. It would be a controversial move, Farrell admits, but one that would prove beneficial to players who in many cases have already graduated to a senior panel by the time they turn 21.
And he used his own Dublin U-21 team from this year as an example.
"I was doing an exercise last night looking at our set-up this year at U-21 level. There are eight players who are on the senior management radar. Six of them have been involved before, two of them are new to the set-up.
"If you were to reduce it to U-20, you would be taking ten players from this year's U-21 starting 15 that wouldn't qualify to play. You'd say, 'Right that's a big number'. But of those ten players seven of them have already been involved in senior set-up from previous (years).
"So they would have been U-20 players when they were on Jim Gavin's radar ... Overall the benefits outweigh the negatives on it."
The proposals still have a long way to go if they are to shape any future policy, Farrell admits.
"Hand on heart, would I say did we have one eye on the restraints that we know will emerge as this wrangles its way through? We probably did, yeah. But at the same time I think we have tried to be quite progressive."