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'A small rump of malcontents'

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'I'm not sure what the opposition is based on' says GPA chief Dessie Farrell

'I'm not sure what the opposition is based on' says GPA chief Dessie Farrell

'I'm not sure what the opposition is based on' says GPA chief Dessie Farrell

"A small rump of malcontents"-- that's how GPA chief Dessie Farrell described the meeting that took place last night in Toome, Co Antrim.

The meeting was organised by a group of GAA people who fear irreparable damage to the association if the proposed grants scheme for players agreed by the Government, the GPA, the GAA and the Irish Sports Council goes ahead.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Central Council meeting, which is expected to see the agreement rubber-stamped by the GAA, Farrell played down the opposition to the scheme, which has gathered a head of steam since the GPA's announcement just over a week ago.

Opposed

"I know that there has been a contingent up north who have been opposed to the scheme but I don't know how broad that opinion is," the GPA's chief executive said. "By and large we have had huge cross the board support for this, but obviously change can be difficult for some people."

Much of the opposition to the grants has come from administrators and Farrell agrees that there is something of a 'generation gap' between officers and their county squads but believes that this is changing.

"That has been prevalent in the history of the GPA, but I feel that mindsets have changed and perhaps that difference isn't as obvious as it once was. In a sense there has been a changing of the guard and I think that has helped move things on."

Resistance has been at its strongest in Ulster where the Tyrone and Derry county board chairmen Pat Darcy and Seamus McCloy have already indicated that their units will not be assisting in the distribution of the grants.

"I'm not sure what that (Ulster opposition) is based on. Perhaps it is an extension of the opposition that there was to changes in Rule 42 and Rule 21. What's important is that the players are still revered and respected in their own locality and this scheme in no way damages the amateur ethos," Farrell continued.

"To be honest I can't understand how any GAA person would be willing to stand over a situation where their own players are being discriminated against -- other athletes from other codes are eligible for grants and they are still considered amateur."

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The former Dublin footballer confirmed that payers from both Tyrone and Derry had been in contact expressing concern at their chairman's stance.

"The players (from those counties) must be asking themselves why. It must be very disappointing for them. Why would anyone begrudge their own players a grant?

Last night's meeting in Antrim was chaired by All-Ireland winning Armagh footballer Barry O'Hagan, and Farrell confirmed that his organisation was not invited to attend.

"No, we're not invited nor will we have a representative present. The GAA has a huge membership all around the country and I wonder what constitutes a ground swell? But I'd ask the question -- how many people going to that meeting are from clubs who pay their managers? People choose to ignore certain issues. Other amateur codes get aided and there is no issue so there is a certain degree of hypocrisy involved," he remarked.

Validity

Farrell also hit out at Mayo County Board Secretary Sean Feeney who questioned the validity of the GPA's vote for strike action. In his report for his county convention, Feeney stated the grants scheme was 'more or less pay for play' while he also questioned the voting system undertaken by the GPA when it balloted its members on the possibility of strike action.

"To be honest I don't even think that warrants comment," Farrell retorted. "Our vote was scrutinised by independent auditors as well as several journalists. Mr Feeney's comments were spurious and disingenuous."

If, as is expected, Central Council direct county boards to distribute the funds to their players, Tyrone and Derry will find themselves at odds with Croke Park which could lead to further disruption. In that case, Farrell insisted the GPA would have no issue in distributing the grants to players.

"We would be happy to step in. There is no logistical reason why we couldn't."

Central Council needs only 51pc of the vote to pass the scheme on Saturday and Farrell doesn't foresee any problems.

"I don't see any reason why the scheme won't be passed," he concluded.


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