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GAA's progressive deal with GPA for the greater good

IN the summer of 1987, I interviewed Clare hurling captain Johnny Callinan, who, as a player, was one of the best forwards never to have won an All-Ireland medal and, as an observer of GAA affairs, brought a reasoned approach while never lacking in courage or fervour.

Obviously, the big disappointment of his 15-year career was Clare's failure to make the Munster and All-Ireland breakthroughs, prizes which proved just beyond the outstanding squad of the 1976-78 era.

Callinan's off-field reflections included a suggestion to form a separate association to run hurling (there are many who believe it should still be done) and a call urging the GAA to market its games better; but it was his observations on player-officialdom relationships which resonated with me on Monday following the sign-off on a 'peace in our time deal' between Croke Park and the GPA.

Callinan had been involved in the founding of a GAA Players' Association in the early 1980s, but, since it was organised purely on a voluntary basis, it ran out of momentum after a few years.

It had no administrative HQ and was, in effect, managed by players who were also busy with their careers. This left them with little time to work on a proper organisational base.


However, the biggest problem was the attitude of the GAA authorities. Suffice to say that if they had begun to fully embrace sponsorship at the time, Croke Park's response to the players' association was so icy that it would have been supported by fridge manufacturers.

"The authorities became very defensive," said Callinan. "It was as if they saw us as a threat, a union which would be constantly seeking changes, whereas we saw ourselves more as an advisory body which would make submissions and raise issues directly related to players. I have yet to meet any official who could explain why it was frowned upon."

Effectively, Croke Park's response was to freeze out the new association and they succeeded. The movement disintegrated and wouldn't reorganise until the late 1990s. The new model obviously took cognisance of what had happened to its polite predecessor and was more aggressive in dealing with Croke Park.

The many spats throughout much of the last decade produced all sorts of unprecedented scenarios, including the possibility of universal player strikes, while semi-professionalism appeared to be lurking in the background in the minds of some influential figures.

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Croke Park had three options: ignore the GPA, as had happened in the early 1980s; fight them at every turn; or work on finding common ground which would ultimately lead to compromise.

Option one was no longer viable in a changed environment, while option two was tried from time to time, but merely strengthened the GPA's case in the eyes of the public. That left the third choice as the logical way forward and a deal was finally agreed on in late 2009.

It has now been formalised for the next five years in an arrangement where €8.75m of GAA funds will be transferred to the GPA to run their operations.

Naturally, there's some dissent, not least from the 'Of One Belief' group -- the self-styled permanent opposition to any deal with the GPA -- who berate the "idea of throwing money at the people who make the most noise." Of One Belief further claim that way of thinking was the policy which corrupted Ireland and allege that "we're now doing it in the GAA."

Doing what exactly? Embracing the role of the players and giving their representatives an opportunity to run schemes which are good for their members? It's all done in co-operation with the GAA authorities, which will be aware of how all the money is spent.

As for "throwing money at the people who make the most noise", isn't it more a case of allocating funds to the performers who ultimately generate all the money?

The GAA is facing enough challenges without having its players and administrators at war. That's why the new deal between Croke Park and the GPA is logical, sensible and progressive.

Pity is that Croke Park didn't listen to Johnny Callinan and Co 30 years ago. Who knows what might have been achieved if the players had been properly recognised back then?

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