Tuesday 19 September 2017

Comment: The GPA's unconvincing response to the Super 8 proposals raises plenty of questions

25 February 2017; Dermot Earley, CEO of the Gaelic Players Association, speaking against Motion 4 during the 2017 GAA Annual Congress at Croke Park, in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
25 February 2017; Dermot Earley, CEO of the Gaelic Players Association, speaking against Motion 4 during the 2017 GAA Annual Congress at Croke Park, in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

"I have seen, to my disgust, the players draw the crowds, make the money and lose their sweat in many a hard game, while the gentlemen at the head of affairs take charge of the bag and jump into their cars before the match is over to head back to their hotel to count the coin made by the rank and file."

The previous paragraph was included in a letter to The Cork Sportsman newspaper in 1908, written by a star hurler of his generation, Jamesy Kelleher from the Dungourney club.

Nowadays, Jamesy wouldn't need to be so articulate. He would simply lift his smartphone, type out an angry tweet and garnish it with a few emoticons.

Angry face is good. A money bag with a $ sign is better. A curse word might earn you an extra 100 followers as you watch the retweets and likes rolling in, endorphins pinging off in your brain!

A disconnect between players and committee types? 'Twas ever thus. Last weekend's Congress just crystallised it.

The reasons for it are quite simple. In this job, you interview hundreds of players in a year. You get an handle on how they have to live their lives.

For the most part, they are spending their evenings writhing about in agony on foam rollers, running lengths of pitches and living the life of the team bubble.

Attending committee meetings within their club - which can be divisive, complex and always, always boring - sounds like torture.

That's where a buffer comes in. Someone who can communicate the wishes of Central Council, on, say, forthcoming proposals to change the All-Ireland football Championship to the body of players.

You might have thought the lavish donation of £5.2 million per annum from the GAA to the GPA would have taken care of this. 

The GAA now recognise and see the GPA as guardians of the playing body of the Association. Their duty of care has been outsourced to the GPA. Given their staffing levels and the lavish payments, this is hardly unreasonable.

The proposals for the 'Super 8s' were launched in Croke Park, with all the GAA media present last August. The GAA then had a few meetings with former GPA chief Dessie Farrell present, on one occasion with only the Super 8s on the agenda. Jarlath Burns maintains Farrell raised no questions, nor contributed to the debate.

The first time GPA members were asked their views on the proposals came by an email or Whats' App message to the player reps in counties, asking the players to vote all three motions proposed by Central Council. In early February. Six months after the rough draft was circulated.

That's it. There was no information evenings, no slide shows, nothing.

The vote - and it would be instructive to see the voter turnout - was 70-30% against the Super 8s.

A GPA statement made a crafty attempt to throw the ball back into the GAA court, stating their vote was coloured by; 'The lack of sufficient and meaningful consultation with players regarding all aspects of the proposal.'

It's an unconvincing response and has been subsequently hammered with Burn's interview on Off The Ball on Monday night, stating exactly the lack of effort the GPA put into informing the people they are paid to represent.

At a press launch in Garvaghey on Monday, Tyrone's Ronan McNamee and Monaghan's Fintan Kelly revealed they had not voted in the ballot.

"Did you vote against it Ronan?"

He replied; "It didn’t even cross my mind… I suppose if everybody had my approach to it, nobody would be voting."

A poor report card sent home in the bag for them, for sure.

So now, the GAA will have to take over informing it's members of any potential changes. They would prefer the GPA to review how they treat their own members.

Because their real work now has to be engagement with the Club Player's Association.

They now have opportunity, and crucially, all the time in the world. The CPA have a number of avenues they can pursue, but being adversarial would serve neither themselves or a GAA that feels embattled by the tone of recent debate and personal attacks on their leadership.

The time for stunts and noise is over. What all sides need now, is mature leadership and certainly not grandstanding over any potential strike action. 

If they toy with that idea, then they stand to lose Liam Griffin, one of the most respected members of the group and one of the main reasons people signed up.

Can they afford that?

Hardly.

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