The GPA published its annual report last week and every GAA member and supporter should have paid particular attention so that they can judge for themselves if they are getting value for money from the €1.85m that is going from the GAA central coffers to the GPA.
Is this money better spent going to the GPA than, for example, finding its way back to clubs in the form of grants? Make up your own mind.
I was involved in a bit of a spat with the GPA some months back after they took exception to a couple of articles I wrote which were critical of the players' group. I very publicly supported the idea of an independent players' organisation being set up in the first place, but like the great economist John Maynard Keynes, when I get more information, I sometimes change my mind.
After the first article a text emanated from within the GPA which I wrote about subsequently. Initially the GPA denied all knowledge and responsibility for this text, in which I was referred to as a 'Meath Fcker'. The chairman of the GPA, Donal Óg Cusack, sent a strongly worded letter to my editor demanding that I either substantiate my claim or apologise. Cusack wrote: "If someone within the GPA wrote this text he or she will be sanctioned and we will apologise to Mr O'Rourke."
When I spoke by phone with Cusack after it was determined that the text had indeed come from someone within the GPA (who subsequently contacted me and personally apologised), I had only one question for him: Was the GPA going to apologise, as he had said in his letter?
I am still waiting. Cusack was more interested in a meeting where I could hear all the GPA's good news. I have no interest in such a meeting. I always try to maintain a healthy distance from any of the groups within the GAA so as to have unvarnished opinions. As Cusack wrote the letter to the sports editor, I believe the GPA was obliged to apologise. I could not care less if it never came but you should not pledge something if you do not intend to honour it.
Anyway, time moves on quickly. To my mind, the annual report is the usual propaganda that any organisation will use to promote itself and there are plenty of things the GPA are involved in which are very much worth highlighting. I'm thinking here of their work around mental health issues, addiction counselling, scholarships and entrepreneurial advice.
Yet there are plenty of other things I would like to see being made available to the great unwashed supporters in the GAA, and many players at the highest level who contacted me after that very public spat. I would like to see a list of every person to have benefited from GPA scholarships and each of the educational institutions involved. In responding to my criticisms last October, the GPA named, in a distasteful way, a couple of players from Meath who had received help. This help of course was well deserved. So now I am calling on the GPA to publish the complete list, and not just the Meath players.
I welcome the publication in the report of the financial statement, but it reveals little detail, despite chief executive Dessie Farrell claiming the GPA are more closely monitored than most organisations. The detail I would like to see is how much of the €1.85m that comes from the GAA goes on wages, with a complete list of who earns what. Maybe there are some who feel that if a commercial organisation could see what the top executives are earning they might take them away with a better offer. I would also like to see a detailed breakdown of expenses, like how much is spent on travelling to New York for fundraising activities.
Money raised in New York should stay there. The New York County Board and community of clubs there have even greater problems of finance than most. If, as the GPA say, they are tapping into new sources, well then great, give this money to the New York GAA, who are spending $6m on Gaelic Park, or the clubs who are doing some amazing work at underage level.
The GPA is big into personal development. There is nothing wrong with that but how did players build careers and have jobs up to now? Most of the pressures which young players are subject to are a direct result of the fixtures mess that the GPA have been singularly unsuccessful in doing anything about.
This is the real player welfare issue and there is no money needed to sort it. In a way, the GPA are treating effect not cause, and players have all the power in this regard if the GPA put enough pressure on. Action in this area would be more beneficial to players than all the programmes combined as it would reduce a lot of the stresses young players in particular are facing. All these reports which come out each winter about burnout are a complete waste of time as nobody does anything about it.
The GPA have plans to build a centre for €8-10m to further their work in player development. I could think of a thousand better ways to spend €8m in the GAA and they would all start and finish with clubs and schools rather than inter-county footballers.
Maybe I just don't get it when it comes to the modern GAA. All I know is I played football for 20 years for Meath. I have a son who played county football and I presently coach at school and club level. I must be missing something in the way the GAA is drifting.
It is regrettable that any criticism of the GPA elicits a sharp response from them at central level and from some closely aligned players. There is nothing wrong with players defending their territory; county players give enormous enjoyment but they are the tip of an iceberg which is propped up by thousands of ordinary club players.
I have no interest in further comment on the GPA. I have no interest in any further involvement in past players' dinners, which I have supported. They will probably survive very well without me.
It would be unfair of me to suggest anything other than that the GPA are doing very valuable work in some areas. My problem is the GPA mouse is leading the GAA elephant around on a string at the moment. Sooner or later the elephant will change step and the outcome will be messy.
Sunday Indo Sport