GPA has become a serious player
O N Thursday last, Liam Sheedy and his two selectors -- who had guided Tipperary hurlers to a thrilling All-Ireland success last month -- caused a mini-sensation by stepping down. Later on the same day, the hurling and football championship draws were made for 2011. All in all, it was a busy day on the GAA news front.
Sandwiched between the two headline-grabbing events, however, was the release by the Gaelic Players' Association of a progress report on its welfare services. The key thing to emerge from this report was the increase in players seeking the GPA's assistance across a range of services -- education, careers, health and well-being.
Slowly but surely the GPA is maturing into a formidable outfit. In its early days, its message to the GAA public at large was muddled, perhaps indicative of a lack of direction in the organisation itself, and it has taken many years for it to overcome the deep-rooted suspicions of GAA men and women that it existed purely to advance the cause of pay-for-play.
This report did not receive too much media attention last week so it will take time for its contents to be fully absorbed into the GAA consciousness, but in time it is likely that the publication of this insight into the GPA's welfare services will be seen as some kind of watershed in the fledgling association's development.
It is probable that there are some who are still suspicious of the GPA, who feel the intentions of its leading figures are less than honourable, but the truth is that evidence has been there for some time now that the GPA is working to a very clear strategy and that it is getting more and more adept at implementing its policies.
Sure, there was plenty of posturing once but that has long since given way to a more measured approach, and achieving official recognition from the GAA last year gave credence to this. It also, of course, brought in over €1m in extra revenue to the GPA and the report is also keen to highlight how this money is put to use. It ticks all the right boxes in terms of what it sets out, while there is an acknowledgement that it is still very much on a learning curve itself. "The development of the player development programme needs to be balanced with the overall growth of the GPA in terms of capacity to deliver financial resources, governance and human resources," the report states.
Another key aspect of the report is just how deeply inter-county players are being hit by the recession -- not that that should be a surprise. "Players are no different from the general population in that respect," said the GPA's chief executive Dessie Farrell (pictured) on Thursday.
Still, the figures show that pressure will be on the GPA to continue to deliver and enhance the services they currently offer to members. This, naturally, will require money and the report indicates that current spending on player welfare by the association could rise from just over €2m this year to €4.5m by 2013.
The GPA estimates that 15 per cent, approximately 300, of its members are currently unemployed. But the results of its support programme in this area are noteworthy, as its careers service has "delivered significant results for players". The report continues: "For those who were unemployed prior to engaging with the service, their average time unemployed was eight months. Once an unemployed player engaged with the service, the average time to regain employment or return to education was only two months."
Among the facilities availed of by inter-county players was support for a start-up business (13 players) and skills training (10), while seven players received a grant from the association's Benevolent Fund, set up to help those who experience serious financial difficulties. But perhaps the most striking figure in the report concerns education, and the fact that 327 players received funding towards full-time courses in the 2009/'10 Scholarship Scheme. "Due to my football commitment to county, club and college, and of course my studies, part-time work is just not an option so the scholarship helped finance my college term," said one player. Under the health and well-being heading, the GPA reports that it launched a personal counselling service -- availed of by five players so far, again indicative of the times in which we live.
This report reminds us all that amateur players are exactly that. They are still troubled by the same worries as everybody else. The breadth of services offered by the GPA will surprise many of its critics, and on the evidence of this first report, the money it will receive in years to come from the GAA will be money well spent.