Sunday 8 December 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Fans love their county players - so why is GPA viewed so suspiciously?'

 

Cork footballer Brian Hurley, Kildare footballer Kevin Feely, GPA CEO Paul Flynn, GAA president John Horan, UMPC senior vice president David Beirne, Waterford hurler Austin Gleeson, WIT camogie player Shauna Quirke and Tipperary hurler Jake Morris at the announcement of UPMC as official healthcare partner to the GAA/GPA. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cork footballer Brian Hurley, Kildare footballer Kevin Feely, GPA CEO Paul Flynn, GAA president John Horan, UMPC senior vice president David Beirne, Waterford hurler Austin Gleeson, WIT camogie player Shauna Quirke and Tipperary hurler Jake Morris at the announcement of UPMC as official healthcare partner to the GAA/GPA. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

A text dropped in late last week from a former county player who had noticed the announcement of the latest players to benefit from the arrangement between DCU and the GPA in this newspaper.

In what was the tenth year of the scheme, he pointed out that the make-up of this year's beneficiaries was Dublin-heavy.

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Former Dublin footballer Mark Vaughan, Naomh Mearnóg's Shane Carthy, who will look to force his way back into Jim Gavin's side in 2020, and current Dublin hurler Riain McBride all benefited, along with former Roscommon footballer Paul Gleeson.

Amongst other things, his text read 'GPA still handing Dubs all the grants'. It turned out he had applied for one of the GPA-led schemes for further education, so the initial instinct was to put it down to sour grapes at missing out.

Not so, he said. He insisted he had purposely avoided applying for courses in Dublin.

"Why?"

"Closed shop," he wrote. Even before he got involved in the process and got rejected, he had his reservations. And therein lies the crux of one of the many issues facing the GPA.

County players are beloved and held in the highest esteem in the communities and counties. So why is it that the body that represents them is viewed with suspicion? And in this case, even by a former member who could stand to benefit directly from their work?

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In some ways at least, the GPA are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Some of the most important and best work they do surrounds mental health and issues around hardship funds and addiction.

For obvious reasons, much of that work is of a personal and sensitive nature and will rarely make the papers or the airwaves. For that work, they will simply never get the credit.

There's difficulty around the awarding of education scholarships in DCU too.

For an organisation often accused of being Dublin-centric, the optics of having Dublin benefit from three of the four awards was undoubtedly poor.

However, a quick look back at the awards over the last couple of years show that there's been a reasonable spread.

Cavan, Down, Meath and Dublin (twice) were represented last year. In 2017, a member of the Dublin ladies football team and Dublin hurlers were on the list of recipients along with Waterford, Sligo, Down and Mayo.

Since its foundation and through to official recognition, the GPA have been a wildly successful group. Between government grants, enhanced mileage and nutrition allowances, there has never been a better time to be a county player. The GPA and its work are the main reason for that.

People like to see their county stars well looked after but still, the GPA remain a polarising group.

For some, the financial commitment the GAA made to them some years ago went too far and promised too much to one small part of such a large organisation.

That deal is up for renewal now and not many expect the GPA to be worse off after the new deal is inked.

The trips to the US bring them under the spotlight too. Bringing hurling to Queens but not to Kingscourt, to Boston but not too another outpost of the game on this island will never look good.

On the outside looking in, it looked like a junket. But in media interviews yesterday, GPA CEO Paul Flynn pointed out that the US-based trips provide funds for programmes they couldn't otherwise support.

"We support the WGPA, the women players in our game," he said.

"We wouldn't be able to do that if we didn't fundraise over in the US. Because the funding we get from the GAA is restricted to the men's game, because there are three different associations.

"So is anybody going to argue with us supporting the women and being able to put in programmes similar to the programmes that the men get, for the women who put in the same amount of effort? I don't think people can argue with that."

Correct

On that much, Flynn is correct. Not many would argue with raising funds to help keep the WGPA afloat but it's a view they haven't propagated enough. Amongst everything else, the message gets blurred.

There's no doubt that some of the work they do is vital. Players might be better looked after than ever but there are more demands on them than ever before too.

Most people are in favour of the idea of the players of today getting all the support they need to pursue the game at the highest level.

But the organisation that represents the interest of those same players doesn't enjoy anything like the level of support that its members do on an individual basis.

As an entity, the GPA have a significant image problem.

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