'Football calendar reform has to be a priority'
New GPA chief Earley wants better delivery of its message
The structure of the football championships is the most pressing item in the inbox of the new Gaelic Players Association (GPA) chief executive Dermot Earley who was unveiled as Dessie Farrell's replacement at their Santry headquarters yesterday.
The former Kildare footballer has been president of the association for the last three years and was one of the lead negotiators for the players as the GAA and GPA struck agreement for a further three years last summer.
He is taking leave of absence from the Defence Forces where he has been the Officer Commanding the 2nd Brigade Military Police Company. Generally considered to have potential to rise further up the ranks, pitching for this position was, he accepted, "a big decision".
Earley will commence his role in February and will seek to immediately consult with key stakeholders to get a proper picture of what the GPA are and aren't doing well.
He accepted in his first round of interviews that the GPA's message about what they do hasn't been getting around the way it should.
That will be a focus for the first few months but within weeks he should have a clearer picture of what the inter-county fixture landscape will look like as Páraic Duffy's reform document - creating an All-Ireland quarter-final round robin series but crucially re-organising the calendar to complete the All-Ireland football championship three weeks earlier - goes before Congress.
"There is an appetite for change and we have been hearing that for a long time, certainly on the football side.
"We did present a proposal but it didn't make it to the floor of Congress last year because it did not have a B tier and the number of games were increased. But the irony is that the GAA's proposal has an increased number of games as well. We will have to watch that space very clearly," he said.
Earley says he will engage with the GPA membership on the Duffy motion to get a consensus on where their Congress vote will go.
"It does increase the number of games and possibly, for eight teams, their championship season is prolonged. But I think you have to go back to maybe the provincial structure where there's a structure that's unfair, different starting dates in different provinces. That's not good."
Earley inherits a players' body from Farrell that's in rude health with a lot of boxes ticked. The latest GAA/GPA agreement and funding arrangement from the Irish Sports Council will see inter-county players benefiting significantly from enhanced expenses.
But selling the message of what they do is something they have to look at, he acknowledged.
"It hasn't got out to the wider GAA public exactly what we do. I suppose the challenge for me is to get that message out exactly what the services are we provide here for the inter-county player. A lot of people actually don't understand the workings of the internal staff here and the benefits of the programmes that we have."
Are they sometimes misunderstood? "Maybe. I suppose people, not that they don't want to, they don't really have an interest in what goes on. They might just see the funding we receive and they're possibly critical of that without realising where exactly that funding goes.
"If we look at the last deal, half of that funding is going right directly back into the players to help them prepare to play inter-county games. The rest of it goes into providing the support services here."
Earley doesn't see a mood for 'pay for play' among the playing body. "That's enshrined in our constitution, I think that area has gone away. It's not on the agenda at the moment," he explained.
"It's all about whether or not the players are calling for that. When I go out to talk to them after taking over, if I come away from those discussions and I reflect that that is one of the pressing issues, then it does become something that is on the agenda. But at the moment, it's not."
Earley has however given a commitment to continue fundraising in the US where the GPA, in addition to a growing number of counties, has been very active, much to the annoyance of the local organisations.
He also gave his blessing to a continuation of Super 11s, an abbreviated form of hurling designed to showcase the game in smaller US sports stadia like the famed Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox baseball team, where over 30,000 convened to watch Dublin and Galway in late 2015.
That particular match descended into a brawl, for which the GAA stepped in to hand out suspensions, but Earley refuted any suggestion that the flare-up was contrived.
"We will resurrect the Super 11s and we hope to get a game back in the States later this year. I think the passion shown by the Dublin and Galway teams was appreciated by the crowd out there. Any elite county player wants to win at all costs and that's what we saw out there. We saw that winning mentality and if it spilled over, well that's the first I heard that it was manufactured."
Fundraising in cities like New York and Boston will also remain a central plank with the GPA supported by a strong North American Advisory Board. "Our funding at the moment doesn't allow us to provide for all our members so that fundraising is very important."
The GPA are already guaranteed €3.3m in funding in each of the three years that they reached agreement for, possibly rising if 15 per cent of commercial revenues ring-fenced goes above €2.5m.