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Saturday 7 December 2019

Five issues in the GAA that Dermot Earley must address

Resource differences between stronger and weaker counties has to be of concern for GPA

Dermot Earley. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Dermot Earley. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Many of the disputes which caused friction between the GAA and the GPA have been resolved but Dermot Earley will still face many challenges when he takes over as CEO of the players' association next month.

Dessie Farrell led the GPA through its difficult formative years, building it into a very successful organisation whose permanency in the GAA's future is assured.

It's now entering a new phase, where the challenges have moved on from the raw basics which always form part of any group's early years to more subtle - but no less important - issues.

1. Inequality

It was always at the heart of the inter-county scene but has become even more pronounced in recent times. For obvious reasons, there never was - and never will be - a time when all counties had an equal chance of winning the All-Ireland title.

All players know that but those from the so-called weaker counties are now being asked to accept that the prospects of narrowing the divide between the various tiers are receding rapidly, not due to population imbalances or structural issues but because of resources.

Successful counties are capable of generating vast amount of finance for running county teams, giving them another big advantage over weaker counterparts. The GPA cannot interfere with the revenue-generating mechanisms in successful counties but they can play a crucial role in ensuring that weaker counties are given the resources to enable them to prepare their players to the highest standards.

It would involve rebalancing the share-out of national funds in favour of weaker counties. That would not be popular among the stronger counties but, in the interests of fairness, it's the right thing to do.

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The GPA represents players from all counties so they are fully aware of the resource differential that applies. Addressing them is important if any degree of equality, which is surely at the core of a players' organisation, is to apply.

Redistributing wealth is a matter for the Croke Park powerbrokers but Earley (right) should make it an early priority to persuade them to take action.

2. Fixture formats

Earley said on Tuesday that the Championship structure - especially in football - was a pressing issue.

Unfortunately, it's next to impossible to get agreement on how best to proceed, as underlined by the shambolic situation which developed last year when Central Council was forced into an embarrassing retreat when players threatened to boycott the introduction of a 'B' championship for Division 4 counties.

Earlier, Central Council refused to put a GPA proposal on the Congress agenda, which certainly wasn't helpful.

The GPA needs to devise a range of alternatives and, if they are rejected, keep coming back with more until such time as a workable formula is found. Keep knocking until the door is opened.

3. Express a view on topical matters

What's the GPA's position on the stand-off between Galway and Leinster over venues for senior games and participation of underage teams? It may appear like no more than a minor tiff, but, unless resolved, it has the potential to cause major problems.

What do players from Leinster counties think on the refusal of their county boards to countenance playing games in Galway? The GPA could easily ascertain a response, which would be helpful in working towards a solution. Other topical issues arise all the time, where the players' views should be fed into the mix very quickly.

4. Rules initiatives

It would be helpful if the GPA brought forward a package of proposed rule changes. Their members are ideally placed to come up with suggestions so why not exploit that?

It would also be productive to organise a liaison committee of players who would communicate with the referees' groups for the purpose of facilitating a smooth implementation of rule changes.

5. Image

The GPA has shed the confrontational image which marked its earlier days, becoming more measured in how it pursues its objectives. Still, there's a degree of unease in many quarters over its overseas fund-raising activities, plus the desire to promote Super 11 hurling in the US while the game here is struggling in so many counties.

The launch of the Club Players' Association will also present an image issue for the GPA. The CPA plans to cater for the vast majority of players, making it crucial for the GPA not to be regarded as elitist and self-serving. That's a bigger challenge that may appear obvious.

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