Wednesday 13 November 2019

Comment: GPA will be ready for war if pay-for-play calls increase

Ballysteen called for an investigation into how the red card was overturned
Ballysteen called for an investigation into how the red card was overturned
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

They may not have been enough to send fearful gusts swirling through the Croke Park corridors, but recent comments from two Dublin footballers certainly merit an entry in the 'issues of concern' file.

Delivered in different settings, they referred to the GAA's amateur ethos, a concept that has been under sustained attack for a long time.

Philly McMahon mused over the possibility or players working part-time for a few months while being given "much better expenses to play games".

The longer a squad survived in the championship, the more they would get. However it's dressed up, it still comes out as pay-for-play.

Responding to questions on the GPA's future attitude to professionalism, McMahon's colleague and new GPA CEO Paul Flynn said last week that the matter would be decided by the membership.

"It's a bottom-up organisation. We represent our membership and as long as our membership want us to remain amateur, we'll remain amateur. It's going to be the same for everything we do across the board.

"This is going to come from the bottom and we are going to be actioning what our members require. I'll be proud to lead that charge," he said.

Presumably, that means that if a groundswell of player opinion emerged that the time had come for pay-for-play, Flynn would drive it hard. It's a role he may well have to take on, sooner rather than later.

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Times are changing and when it comes to pay-for-play, there's only one direction beckoning a new generation. Wexford's Lee Chin talked of the possibility of inter-county squads operating on a similar basis to League of Ireland soccer players.

Michael Shields (Cork) said that while he wasn't calling for professionalism, he felt it was "coming down the line". And then there was the suggestion from Dublin's Brian Fenton that players be financially incentivised not to go to the US in the summer so that proper club schedules could be maintained. "The GAA is not short of money," he said.

Perhaps so, but nothing would drain it like pay-for-play. And yet, it's difficult to see how it can be permanently resisted when the demands on players have become so intense.

The recent ESRI report, which showed that inter-county players can devote up to 31 hours to football or hurling at certain times of the year, has dramatically changed the landscape. It's beyond bizarre that a quarter of their waking hours should be taken up by what is essentially a pastime, especially when it's being done in the company of some people who are being paid.

Professional input to the county scene has increased out of all proportion since the turn of the Millennium. Indeed, in many cases, the professionals have a considerable influence in setting the demands which amateur players are expected to fulfil.

It's almost three years since Dessie Farrell, the-then GPA CEO, told Vincent Hogan in an interview in this newspaper that the loads being hoisted on players were far too heavy.

"Five years ago, I suppose we would have said we were at saturation point. But managers still expect more, supporters expect more, county officials expect more, the players themselves expect more. It's being driven by everyone," he said.

It has increased further since then and while there's a general recognition that something has to give, nothing is being done to release the pressure valve. It's against that unhealthy background that pay-for-pay calls will inevitably increase. And when they become loud enough, the GPA will be ready for war.

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