W HEN it was founded, I thought the Gaelic Players' Association was an admirable idea whose time had come. When the Cork hurlers went on strike, I fully supported them and wrote fiercely partisan articles to that effect. I believed in the Orwellian mantra of the contemporary GAA journalist: "Players Good. Officials Bad."
These days I find it hard to work up the same enthusiasm for the GPA. I've been trying to work out why but it wasn't till last week that the eureka moment arrived. Now I realise that my opinion has changed because, increasingly, the behaviour of those connected with the organisation displays a level of arrogance, illogic and boorish bad manners which brings the causes it promotes into disrepute.
Take Eddie Brennan's reaction last week to a few lines in a new book on Kerry footballers in which Dara Ó Cinnéide expressed a mild agnosticism about the notion that inter-county players should seek to extract as many perks as possible from the game.
The Kilkenny corner-forward launched into a full-scale attack on Ó Cinnéide and decided to slag off Joe Brolly while he was at it. But there are a few points which should be made about Brennan's broadside, not least that in some respects it was spectacularly witless.
There was, for example, his comment that, "the likes of Dara Ó Cinnéide and Joe Brolly are forgetting where they came from and how they got there." It's unlikely that Ó Cinnéide, a man who is unusually proud of his native hearth even by the standards of the GAA, will have appreciated a comment like that. He is, as is Brolly, still involved at club level. And club level is where all players come from, something the GPA seems to forget on occasion.
And what can we make of Eddie's assertion that, "ever since Dara left the Kerry panel, Kerry training methods have changed a lot." Ó Cinnéide left the Kerry panel after the 2005 Championship. The notion that in two seasons the Kingdom management has suddenly demanded a completely different order of commitment from players is bizarre to say the least.
Intemperate Eddie had a few more epithets to fling around, aiming at the target with a kind of careless abandon which would get him dropped if he replicated it on the field. He suggested Ó Cinnéide was pursuing an "agenda" and that unless Brolly and Ó Cinnéide agreed with the GPA's line on player welfare, they were "stupid." All I'll say is that the word "stupid" did enter my mind when I read these extraordinary comments but not in association with Joe Brolly or Dara Ó Cinnéide.
Brennan also suggested that Ó Cinnéide was in some way disqualified from making any comment because he earns money as a GAA analyst. In doing this he breaks a fundamental rule which usually governs Gaelic games discourse. That rule is that you don't bring people's jobs into it. Ó Cinnéide is a journalist by trade. Comment is one way in which he makes his living. Casting aspersions on that is crossing a line. This wasn't the first personalised attack of the week by the GPA. Donal óg Cusack took it upon himself to whinge about Brolly at the press conference announcing the strike. The implication, again, was that Brolly is a hypocrite because he favours the retention of the GAA's amateur ethos but earns a few bob as a match analyst on RTE.
Well, for a start, Brolly's money has nothing to do with the GAA, it comes from RTE. And, secondly, the notion that nobody who makes any money from commentating on Gaelic games has the right to criticise the GPA is beneath contempt. Cusack came up with more of the same oul' nonsense at the conference when he suggested that journalists who didn't agree with him should cover GAA matches on a Sunday and then do another job during the week. Does he not realise that if they didn't cover the GAA during the week, they wouldn't have the joy of covering GPA press conferences?
There is no greater bollocks than the man who presumes to tell someone else how to do their job on the grounds that they are somehow beholden to him. Prime examples are the drunk telling the publican that it's his money that built this new bar, the obstreperous motorist telling the cop that he should be out catching murderers instead of enforcing the road traffic laws, the abusive Iarnród Éireann passenger telling the ticket collector, "I pay your wages, you know." To this list can be added the GPA activist giving career guidance advice to journalists, some of whom were doing their job when he was still in short trousers every day of the week and not just on Sundays.
Nobody can match a young man in his twenties when it comes to self-pity, self-aggrandisement and self-absorption (I know, I've been one). The GPA, which represents this particular turbulent demographic, is currently exhibiting all the faults you might expect from an association powered almost entirely by callow male egotism. They
don't seem to appreciate that other people, even Joe Brolly, have the right to disagree with them. And this attitude is alienating erstwhile supporters by the new time. (I know, I used to be one).
To top it all off, the Association has now decided to back a strike threat by the Cork football and hurling panel aimed at reversing the decision of the County Board there to take away the right to appoint selectors from county managers.
I think the Cork County Board's decision is wrong but it happens to be the democratic decision of the clubs which voted it in by a huge majority. By trying to overturn that, the GPA are positioning themselves as being more important than GAA democracy. Should they succeed, the doomsday scenario of county trumping club will finally have come true.
This time round, I'm with Frank Murphy. It's only a few months since the media was accused of having an anti-Frank Murphy bias by the same players so portraying him now as the villain will hardly hold water. That's not an "agenda" by the way. It's an opinion.