Friday 24 January 2020

GPA keen to expand its care network for retired players

Sean Potts, GPA head of communications
Sean Potts, GPA head of communications

Damian Lawlor

THE Gaelic Players Association (GPA) has contributed €100,000 to former inter-county players in the past 10 months, the Irish Independent has learned.

The money was given to ex-county hurlers and footballers looking who were looking for help in starting up a business, who had fallen on hard times, who were looking for a return to education, or who needed assistance in their personal lives.

It is estimated there are 20,000 ex-players, and the range of issues encountered among them has prompted the GPA to organise a gathering of former players on the day before the All-Ireland football final, September 20, hosted by the Former Players Group and chaired by Tony Hanahoe. A crowd of more than 400 is expected to attend.

Between 2012 and 2013, 115 referrals were made to the GPA's counselling service for current players, but head of communications Seán Potts said his association also had to look after those no longer on the field.

"We are looking to build up an alumni," he added. "It will take several years, but this gathering before the final is a huge step for us. It is an important social event acknowledging the contribution these players have made to the game and the GAA.

"We aim to develop a network of communication and a structure for former players who need to change careers, go back to education, up-skill or set off on a different direction in life.

"We have helped former players in the past few months in areas from education to 
career development to coping without health insurance or assisting with medical costs.

"Bringing successful people together will only open doors for everyone. Our former players have essential life experience, and we can harness that.

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"We are developing a leadership programme, and an alumni will enable us to learn valuable lessons from players who have been successful - people like senior executives Dermot 
Reilly, Pat Gilroy and Kevin O'Neill, to name a few. Other sports network very effectively, and we can tap into a very powerful resource for players by doing likewise."

Several well-known players have retired in the past week, including Tipperary goalkeeper Paul Fitzgerald, Longford netminder Damien Sheridan and Meath's Seamus Kenny. Separately, current players have been in the headlines in recent weeks for personal issues.

Potts said the GPA must continue educating those still performing in terms of what lies ahead when their careers end. He also stressed that the GPA cannot afford to shut the door on former players either.

"No we can't and we won't," he said. "The first thing we do when a player retires is to contact them and make sure that they stay connected; to remind them support is there for them. We acknowledge their contribution in a positive, practical way and let them know there is somewhere to turn if needs be."

We have seen in high-profile cases with current players what trials and tribulations can be out there. The challenge for us in all of this is dealing with the vast numbers of players - ­2,200 current hurlers and footballers and a growing number of 
former players seeking support.

"With that in mind, we have been fundraising in the USA for three years, and it has been hugely beneficial. Darren Fay 
is a case in point - he committed to full-time education thanks to a €30,000 donation from the US through our Sponsor a Scholar scheme.

"So while we can help those who retired, we are trying to encourage those still playing to have a long-term development plan. You can give a guy all the perks in the world, but it won't make one blind bit of difference to the player down the line if 
he doesn't have a plan.

"When they retire, it's only then they see how they have neglected other areas of their life, and that's when issues arise. In that regard, we also see the embracing of the former players as providing important mentors for our programmes."

With 2,500 GPA scholarships funded to date - and many more expressions of 
interest growing as the former player network expands - the 
September 20 gathering is 
also an important fundraising event, with sponsors being sought for player tables.

Anyone who has represented their county is invited to attend, provided they register in advance with the GPA.

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