Sunday 23 October 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Top brass silent as GPA morphs into a monster

Published 17/01/2016 | 17:00

Dessie Farrell will step down as head of the GPA in December
Dessie Farrell will step down as head of the GPA in December

The Christmas truce is over. So, it was with great interest that I read Vincent Hogan's in-depth interview with Dessie Farrell of the GPA in last Saturday's Irish Independent. And unless I am missing something here, it showed no depth to the GPA.

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There was a big focus on the problem of gambling, yet the figures for this or other addictions in the GAA are quite small and not unlike those of the general population. And players don't have to rely on the GPA to solve the problem. There are plenty of agencies where they can seek help. I know most of them very well because, as principal of a school with 900 boys, I have plenty of contact with troubled young men and those who help them.

There is a danger that every bit of difficulty in a person's life will be blamed on some type of addiction, depression or other type of mental issue which needs a guru to sort out. The statistics are available and it is plain that there is a small percentage of cases which need serious professional intervention. There are also a lot more of the 'get over it' type which every young person must deal with.

These might involve rejection in sport, work, relationships and life in general and I do think that young men are not as mentally tough in dealing with normal life issues as previous generations who had to battle harder in a much different and harsher environment. (Cue the attacks by outraged therapists.)

So while the GPA may give valuable help in this regard, and also provide some third-level scholarships, it is hardly what the Association is supposed to be about. The same is true of their leadership programmes which supposedly develop players to their true potential. Presumably these are necessary due to the fact that these same players are spending so much time on their GAA careers. Perhaps this is the very reason why the GPA should be doing something about the cause - and then the effect would be greatly reduced. There was a time when players at county level trained hard, played a high level of football, held down responsible jobs and did not need a shrink, guru or life adviser to tell them how to lead a better life.

If the system now is so demanding that players are not able to think for themselves, then it is that system which should be sorted because it looks like a lot of players play like centrally controlled clones with little personality.

Things have gotten so completely out of hand now that some players even turn to the GPA to issue their retirement statements; it is like a death notice. Why can a player not walk away and say, "It was great while it lasted, good luck".

It appears now that the GPA are doing such a valuable job with these players that they need extra funds and have big and very successful fundraising drives in the United States. These lavish affairs, where a small number of the GPA hierarchy embark on fundraising trips to New York, are something I have questioned in the past. I have also questioned the remuneration of all the GPA employees. I am not holding my breath for an answer. Nor in respect of the GPA hosting a golf event in the K Club for their New York friends. A bit far removed from the ethos and ideals of the GAA, I suggest.

Of course I have history with the GPA and when I questioned the way the organisation was going a couple of years ago - a grouping I welcomed at its inception - I was insulted. The GPA took a long time to admit it was their work. Now it was not something to lose any sleep over, but when the chairman at the time, Dónal Óg Cusack, replied with a letter with veiled threats, it did cause some unease in this paper. Even when the GPA admitted it was their doing and the person involved apologised (which I was happy to accept) there was no withdrawal of the letter.

Cusack did ring me and wanted to meet me to tell all the great things the GPA were doing. All I wanted was an apology and withdrawal of the letter. It was not forthcoming so the conversation was short. At the time, too, the paid employees/recruitment officers in each county lined up on Twitter to express their outrage at me having a very mild swipe. How pathetic was that?

So my view on the GPA is very clear. They certainly do some great work in some areas, like providing assistance to players in need, or if you are one of the lucky few to get a scholarship. But overall there is bluff and bluster and you dare not question their operation.

They have singularly failed to improve the outrageous demands on our best young players and player welfare has gone significantly downhill in the last few years on their watch. There is no progress on a properly planned fixture list to protect players, even if that is not the GPA's doing, and there is no progress on over-training either. These are the issues, not leadership programmes, fundraising in the US or fancy golf outings. These could all be dealt with in a less flamboyant way.

The GAA in its lack of wisdom has thrown money at the GPA to keep it quiet. It certainly has done that, but having an expensive executive group like the GPA is a costly way to do it. There is no reason why player welfare could not be more adequately taken care of by a small group in Croke Park under the GAA itself. The All-Stars could just be the GAA All-Stars too, it does not need a GPA imprimatur. And what has a hurling match with a dust-up in Boston got to do with promoting the game at home? Like others, I suppose I will be accused of failing to see the bigger picture.

For me, the GPA has taken over the GAA and a small tail is wagging a very big dog. There is no questioning from anyone at the top of the GAA of any activities of the GPA, it is much too cosy a relationship.

Over time the GPA has morphed into a monster far removed from the basic principles of an amateur community-based organisation. The GPA should be about looking after players' welfare in terms of fixtures, and burnout which would solve most causes of mental anguish and, of course, some individual hardship cases.

The rest of the GPA stuff is, if you'll excuse the French, all bullshit.

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