'If GPA services save one life then they're worth it'
Paul Flynn barely has his feet under the desk as the Gaelic Players Association's new secretary but already there are significant issues to deal with after the GAA's cold shoulder to their proposals for championship reform.
Acknowledging that they are a "rejection" of players' views - according to the GPA, 31 out of 32 inter-county football squads backed a proposal to introduce a round robin qualifier series after a much condensed provincial championship - Flynn accepted the onus was now on the players' body to ensure the opinion of players is properly considered.
"For the inter-county players, who are rolled out every summer to create revenue for the GAA and create a stir around the games, they put forward what they feel could be a good option and it's not listened to. I think it is disappointing," he said.
"Obviously there are so many different pieces to who puts the puzzle forward, I think there were like 40 proposals (18 were eventually put to Central Council before being scaled down to three) put forward. It just goes to show you how subjective it is and how difficult it is to tie down what the structure is.
"There is an onus on the GPA, the GPA represents the playing body, it's about finding out what the players think, that's what the GPA do," he said.
"It happened on Saturday, the dust has barely settled. I think that it's very hard to reach all the players so quickly so it's probably about rounding up the reps, finding what the views are, maybe putting out some kind of survey or feedback template for players then sit down over the coming weeks and decide what needs to be done.
"It is important that you feel you're heard as a playing body. But it is difficult because it is so political and bureaucratic within the GAA," said Flynn.
"I don't think there is anybody out there who disagrees that change is required. I also don't think that everybody agrees on what the system should be but the changes they looked to put forward (introduction of an eight-team 'B' championship) is not change, they are just the same thing practically with maybe one or two alterations. It is disappointing that they didn't listen to the GPA's proposal."
The rejection of the players' proposal, on the basis that it laid out a far greater programme of games at a time when the association is trying to tighten schedules, has given rise to speculation that the relationship between the GAA at central level and the GPA may not be as strong as it appears to have been for much of the five years that they have been officially recognised.
Flynn has also strongly defended the services being provided to the inter-county playing body through the GPA, some of which were described as "bullshit" and "bluff and bluster" by former Meath footballer and Sunday Independent columnist Colm O'Rourke last weekend.
O'Rourke has been highly critical of some aspects of the players' association over the last 15 months, suggesting they are not dealing sufficiently with player welfare issues and the "outrageous demands on our best young players," as he put it last Sunday.
The four-time Dublin All-Star said he was particularly disappointed with O'Rourke's view to 'toughen up', as Flynn put it, to smaller difficulties that may arise in a person's life.
In the article O'Rourke did acknowledge that some cases needed "serious personal intervention" but actually suggested some of the smaller issues needed a 'get over it' approach and that there were enough services in wider society to deal with what personal problems GAA players might have without resorting to the GPA. O'Rourke also suggested that "young men are not as mentally tough in dealing with normal life issues as previous generations who had to battle hard in a much different and harsher environment".
"Some of the services are not bullshit. They might be in his (O'Rourke's) eyes," Flynn responded.
"Mental illness is so prominent in society today. You can have as many organisations as you want out there working on it as we have. There's so many, but yet it's still so prominent among males and predominantly the GPA is made up of all male members.
"So that's a great platform for services to be able to come in and to help. That's one thing I don't agree with is 'toughen up' (get over it) in that regard."
"What (the GPA and the services) is doing is very good in my eyes. It's breaking down the stigma for people to use them and it's making it very accessible for the players to use them.
"So I think they're great services, brilliant services and in many ways they change lives.
"I've lost a friend to suicide so I know what that's like first hand. If those services save one life then they're worthwhile, end of story.
"So why I got involved in the GPA is because I want to see more of that. They've changed many players' lives with regards to scholarships, stuff like that. They're all important things.
"Education is power when you can get yourself highly educated, get yourself a great career that you're happy with.
"That's a great thing and if the GPA are trying to help you on that off-field journey well then I really buy into that piece of it."
Paul Flynn was speaking at the launch of Setanta Sports Allianz League coverage which will feature 17 games beginning with Saturday week's repeat of last year's All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry. Donegal and Down will also be broadcast live on Setanta Sports One.