GPA finally get to enjoy home comforts at HQ
It was sweetness and light like we've never seen it before in Croke Park's box 686 yesterday as the GPA, after more than 10 years of wrangling and confrontation, got their feet under a table on the other side of Jones's Road.
For almost half their existence, the players' body have used the hotel across the road to convey the majority of their messages to the public.
But on foot of last November's agreement, the first fruits from which were officially unveiled yesterday, there is now an official welcome for them at GAA's headquarters. Outside of the announcement of their agreement and plans to fund the players' body to the tune of €1.35m per annum, this was the first joint engagement between the GAA and GPA as the first phase of the player development programme was unveiled.
Agreement between the GAA and GPA cannot be officially signed off until a motion to that effect is passed at Congress next month.
The players' body, though, has wasted no time in rolling out the services it intends to provide, covering topics from career services to job interview skills, educational advice, scholarships, personal counselling, a benevolent fund for former players and a referee defibrillator training course which will be introduced at the behest of the GAA.
Another phase of the development programme will be unveiled later in the year, with a possibility of a third phase at the end of 2010.
GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell said the development programme had the potential to surpass standards of player welfare in most other sports. He welcomed the fact that the two organisations were "no longer at each other's throats and were now reading from the same page".
GAA President Christy Cooney believes the package can go some way to halting the strong tide of emigration of Gaelic footballers and hurlers.
"Hopefully it will be less attractive for players to emigrate because we want to keep as many of our players at home to play our games. What we can do to help in any way to achieve that, we can do that through the projects announced today," said Cooney.
Farrell says the package and those to whom it is available can remove the elitist tag that has been cast upon the GPA from some quarters of the GAA since its inception.
"Everyone from the Kilkenny to the Donegal to the Louth hurlers will benefit from this. In the past we were accused of being elite because of the perception that we were only top-team focused," said Farrell.
"If anything, it's the lower-profile teams, who are far from elite, who stand to benefit most from these programmes. To be fair, most of the top squads are still well catered for in player welfare, at least in the traditional sense. But definitely the bar has been raised for the lower-profile countries, as we've encompassed all the county players."
There is some irony, however, in the fact that €1.1m is being spent on welfare projects for inter-county players at a time when the cover from pre-operation physio in the players' injury scheme is being removed. Clubs and counties will now have to fund this in its entirety themselves.
Farrell admitted it was a "difficult" issue, saying: "I do understand the complexities around the scheme, and the cost involved. We're in a climate now where costs are being looked at everywhere. I'm a club player myself and for a lot of club players that was the front-line of the injury scheme.
"But when you look at the figures, the vast majority of funding in the scheme went on loss of earnings."
Cooney defended the cuts to the physio element of the injury scheme which will report a €1m deficit in the coming weeks.
"It was never the intention to undermine or not support the club player, far from it. We would also have some knowledge that things were not so good as they might have been around the physio situation and maybe a certain amount of abuse was taking place," he said.
"Not withstanding that, we feel that we have made the right decision."
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