Tuesday 27 September 2016

GPA boycott threat a warning shot across GAA's bows

Dermot Crowe

Published 07/02/2016 | 13:00

'The GPA accepts it is only one voice of many, and that their own proposals should be judged on their merits, but it has now hitched itself closer to this issue and must run with it' (Stock picture)
'The GPA accepts it is only one voice of many, and that their own proposals should be judged on their merits, but it has now hitched itself closer to this issue and must run with it' (Stock picture)

A GPA statement threatening to boycott an All-Ireland B senior football championship, were it to get the blessing of Congress, isn't a surprise, based as it is on an overwhelming rejection of the proposal from the counties affected. It also reminds the GAA that the GPA's militant side hasn't been fully decommissioned.

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The episode is reminiscent of earlier days when the GPA and GAA were on less intimate terms but the relationship is much improved and benefiting from improved levels of trust. They've been through five years of a mutual agreement that has given the GPA formal recognition as the players' body and earned it direct funding from the GAA. Now with a new deal under review the GPA did not want to be seen as weak or compromised. They have shown their teeth.

There is an argument to be made that the GAA has remained faithful to the democratic process in treating a multiplicity of championship reform proposals and held widespread consultations. The GPA sits in on Central Council meetings after all and some sources say they were not vociferous enough if they felt discussions were not following an acceptable course. The GPA will argue that their proposals were painstakingly prepared, well documented and that the B competition model, tried and failed before, had no support from the players.

This latest GPA response, if predictable, does raise a challenge for the GAA and tests the warmth of the relationship between the parties, as the architecture of motion selection and Congress itself is being challenged by the GPA, who were part of the process all along. Ultimately they have declared that a motion to Congress isn't acceptable and declared it void by withdrawing player participation if it manages to get the support it needs.

Of course that is unlikely to happen, all the more so now. The other issue will be less easy to resolve and move forward on, with the gun pointed at the GAA's temple to find a broadly representative committee capable of finding a better championship for all concerned.

The GPA accepts it is only one voice of many, and that their own proposals should be judged on their merits, but it has now hitched itself closer to this issue and must run with it. It will not go away and will be there once Congress has come and gone. A boycott threat raises the heat ahead of any negotiations about a new deal between the GAA and GPA and possible talks on issues like championship structure down the road.

They do have common ground on some issues, such as the proposal to change the under-21 competition to under-20. The GPA is usually viewed as a reactionary force and that was certainly the case for much of its early years. Being pro-active and working in formal partnership with the GAA isn't nearly as interesting but they have produced some good work, not least a report on the experience of third-level students which blows some of the prevailing myths about burnout.

Trying to get the GAA to take them more seriously may be the nub of the exercise right now as much as the distaste weaker countries have for a competition that's an afterthought at best. But the GAA will feel the need to assert itself too.

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