At this time of year there is a good chance to take stock and cast a cold eye on the affairs of state, at least those of the GAA world anyway. By chance, the GPA's annual report for 2016 came my way last week so I thought it was time to renew acquaintances with some old friends. Hardly surprising that I am not on the GPA's mailing list but I am quite sure readers will be interested in at least some of the work of this body during 2016.
It is not altogether true that the GPA ignored me, or at least the Meath players of the past, this year. There was an invite to the GPA former players' dinner on the eve of the All-Ireland final for the Meath teams of 1987 and 1988. None of the players took up the invite, which I can honestly say had nothing to do with me, but there are many of them who still take exception to the treatment of myself by the GPA a few years ago. On top of that, the GPA former players sang dumb at the time when they could have made a stand for their own former colleague. Anyway, the elephants did not forget, though I advised many of my friends that they should go even if I would not be attending.
Things move on and a scrutiny of the GPA finances for 2016 makes for interesting reading. The expenditure for the year was €6,142,586 which is bigger than most companies in the country. The income came mainly from the GAA (€2.8m) and Sport Ireland (€1.6m) while revenue generated in the United States came to an impressive €644,750. This mainly came from a dinner in New York where you could sit at a table with a GAA legend for various sums up to €50,000. This part of the GPA's activities is not going down too well in the Big Apple as many clubs and indeed the New York board would like to get their hands on some big money for the development of Gaelic Park.
In my estimate, the €2.6m that the GAA give to the GPA would be enough to fund every club in a small county. One of the other big allocations is €1.2m for nutrition for county players. Many GAA people will be completely exasperated by this figure. Perhaps time will show - or maybe it is apparent already - that a lot of the supplements modern players are taking would be better off in the bin.
GAA players are careful about what they take, but some of the 'gym-market' supplements are not what they say on the tin. A lot of that market is aimed at the body beautiful and substances may be contaminated. Those on that regime don't seem to mind that their urine could turn pink in a few years, or hair could start growing in unusual places.
What really intrigued me from the GPA financial report was the wage bill. The total for 12 employees was €921,121 - an average wage of almost €77,000. That means a big part of the GAA donation went to pay the salaries of the workers.
Drilling down a bit and the payments to "key management" were €490,418 which was up from €370,170 in 2015. There is no figure for how many people make up "key management" but presumably it could not be any more than three. As the Americans say, you do the maths on that.
It shows that there are very well paid people at the top of the GPA and the increase to these key management people of more than €120,000 in one year is staggering compared to the increases in pay in the regular economy. Perhaps they would be head-hunted by some international organisation if they were not paid so lavishly by the GPA. No matter what way it is looked at there is plenty of gravy involved.
One of the GPA's main expenditures is the funding of scholarships for further education of players. Jason Sherlock's autobiography is out and in it he details how, "Dessie Farrell, in 2012, mooted the idea of me applying for a GPA scholarship and studying for a Master of Business Administration at DCU." Jayo goes on to detail how reassuring it was when Dublin player Denis Bastick was there when he went to his first lecture.
The DCU website currently has the cost of an MBA two-year course at €12,750. It is possible that there is some deal between the GPA and DCU but that is the figure quoted for Joe Citizen who wants to up-skill.
Perhaps Jayo would have been wiser to leave out of his memoirs that Dessie Farrell, who was then CEO of the GPA, casually asked him about taking up a scholarship. How many other players were approached in this way? Was there a hurler from Monaghan or a footballer from Leitrim asked whether they would be interested in a scholarship after they had finished playing to help them in their future? Did Dessie Farrell bump into any more ex-players on the street and advise them to do an MBA or some other course and advise them to apply to the GPA for a scholarship?
It is very interesting and shines a light on the internal workings of the GPA. What it does suggest is a culture of favouritism for certain players, past and present, and their counties which may have changed now with greater scrutiny. The blame for this though lies just as much with the GAA at central level - which has dished out money to an alarming extent without much or any say in how this money is spent.
This is not to say that many of the GPA projects aren't worthwhile, because that is not the case. Support in the areas of education, welfare, employment and health has made a huge difference to many players' lives. That is not contested. However, there is need for a debate about how elite players are supported and how the scarce resources of the GAA are to be spent. This debate surrounds entitlements and perception of entitlement. What are top players who create the wealth of the GAA entitled to? Are club players entitled to anything when they play a crucial part in the creation of community?
The GAA of the future needs a vision of where it is going which is not being articulated at present by anyone at or near the top.
In the past I have argued that the top players must be looked after - a tax rebate scheme which is already in place for professional sports should be extended to the GAA. That would be much fairer to all, from Dublin footballers to Wicklow in Division 4 and to all hurlers irrespective of county. Such a system would value players fairly and equally. It would also mean that much of the scarce GAA resources could find their way back to clubs that are struggling to survive.
The GPA do not feel that this is part of their brief, but the rich depend on the foundation built by the poor.