Tuesday 12 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Survey to guide GAA in dealings with players

Shane Walsh comes under pressure from Westmeath’s Joe Rabbit during the Bord Gais Energy Leinster U-21 HC semi-final at Cusack Park. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Shane Walsh comes under pressure from Westmeath’s Joe Rabbit during the Bord Gais Energy Leinster U-21 HC semi-final at Cusack Park. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The most sophisticated research project in GAA history is under way, with over 1,900 inter-county players invited to complete a major survey catering for all aspects of their involvement in the Association.

Commissioned jointly by the GAA and the GPA, and carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), the findings will be published in December.

If they show a trend that suggests an urgent need for rule changes, motions can be drafted in time for the 2018 Congress at the end of February.

The questions cover players' relationships with the GAA from their childhood years through to the present. The 2016 panels are being surveyed, which allows for players who have since retired to explain the reason for their decision.


"This will inform how the GAA deals with players for years to come. Lots of attention has been given to players' view in various guises over the last ten to 15 years but this is the first time that independent experts (ESRI) have been involved," said Alan Milton, head of GAA Communications.

"Every part of player participation is included so the results will be very informative."

The project is being headed by Dr Elish Kelly, a senior research officer with the ESRI.

"When the GAA and the GPA signed their new agreement, part of it involved setting up a working party to look at the whole area of player welfare. There has been a lot of discussions about it over recent years, in terms of the demands being placed on players and the impact it's having on their lives," Kelly said.

"The two bodies (GAA and GPA) decided was they wanted an independent piece of research undertaken. They approached us to carry out that work, which is under way."

An oversight group was put in place to help with the planning of the questionnaire. The group was comprised of former players, Ronan Carolan (Cavan) and Diarmuid Lyng (Wexford), well-known academics with a prominent GAA profile, Eamon O'Shea (NUI Galway), John Considine (UCC), Niall Moyna (DCU) as well as Ger Ryan, chairman of the GAA's medical and Welfare Committee and Siobhán Earley, head of GPA Player Development.

"Everything is about evidenced-based policy-making nowadays. We will provide the GAA and GPA with detailed feedback from the information we receive from the players.

"It's the first time that anything like this has been undertaken in the GAA and will form a benchmark for future generations and studies," said Dr Kelly.

Each player has been allocated a personal pin number so no name will appear on the 10-page, 120-question survey document.

"Complete confidentiality is guaranteed, which is obviously very important. Players can be honest and open in their answers as our findings will be presented as an overall picture. Nothing of an individual nature will be fed back to the GAA, GPA or anyone else. We need players to know that," she added.

That's particularly important for some questions, which cater for relationships with managers, boards, team medics and playing colleagues.

For example, players are asked to rate how much support they received when recovering from injury, whether they were pressurised to play while injured and who made the decision regarding whether they should play while carrying an injury.

They are also asked who they would approach if they had an emotional or mental health difficulty.

There's a question on whether they believe their team-mates have problems with gambling or excessive use of alcohol, drugs, pornography or social media.

The use of supplements is covered under various headings, including questions on who recommended them, where were they sourced, was their use monitored within the county set-up, did players feel pressured to take them and do they have sufficient knowledge about their long-term consequences.

Research will also be carried out among county managers and county secretaries.

"We're focusing on the players for now but over the next few months we will be having workshops with county managers and county secretaries to complete the picture as best we can," said Dr Kelly.

Prizes, including a pair of return flight tickets to the United States for one winner, are being offered as an incentive to players to complete the questionnaire.

"The more responses we get, the more representative the survey will be.

"It's offering players the opportunity to express their views on welfare and other issues that matter to them. It only takes around 30 minutes to complete - it's a one-off commitment and gives players their chance to have their say. We would urge all of them to participate," Dr Kelly added.

It's hoped to have the survey work completed by the end of July.

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