Saturday 16 December 2017

The real work of the players' group is only beginning

The news that the GPA has been accepted as the official representative body of the players won't have had them gathering at their favourite watering holes, all over the country, to celebrate but it is still an important step forward.

Yesterday was just a small move but it is worth remembering that this has been a long war which has lasted far too long, mainly because many officials at all levels just could not get their heads around the traditional view of players who should be seen on a Sunday and never heard from at all. Mistrust ruled and motives were questioned. Silly really, when players give so much without complaint.

In that regard, this dispute has mirrored much of what has happened in worker-employer disputes over many decades. The worker wants recognition and does not get it. The dispute goes up another level and generally ends in a strike. Eventually, compromise takes over from conflict. The most obvious manifestation of this in GAA terms was in Cork. A county board run on Victorian standards of upstairs/downstairs was eventually brought kicking and screaming into the real world.

In striking a blow for all of their number, the players there have also created a monster which the GPA, as a fully recognised body, must move now to solve. The GPA should set about using their influence to solve bush fires which are cropping up far too often in other counties apart from Cork, with Clare and Limerick dominating headlines for the wrong reasons at present. The obvious thing is that a players' representative should be part of the group that appoints team managers and in the event of conflict they must be part of the resolution. That players' rep should probably not be a current player but there is a real danger that player power could become as much of an issue in the future as the abuses of players by officials in the past.

So for Dessie Farrell and his merry men, who have stuck by this project when there were times they could have just thrown it to one side, the real issues now have to be faced. It is certainly not a case of buying a few new suits and sitting in a good seat in the Hogan Stand for all the big games. With power and influence comes responsibilities and the strike weapon must now be decommissioned.

The GPA must sit at the table like everyone else and accept things which stick in the throat -- in the same way as other members of the association have to do at times. The solo runs are over but it does not mean that the work is done. In fact, the GPA must be like the original Progressive Democrat political party, either radical or redundant.

The big issues have not gone away and players should be thankful to the GPA for making player welfare important. In that way they forced county boards to treat players half decently, giving them proper gear, expenses and organising scholarships to third-level colleges. Now the worry for many players is that the GPA could be smothered within the bureaucracy of the GAA itself. Killing it with kindness in other words. There are a thousand ways to skin the cat.

The GPA now more than ever must stand for something; otherwise they will just become another committee. They should certainly continue the magazine which comes with the Irish Independent. It is informative, educational and well put together even if the print is often hard to read, with the background colours a problem.

The player welfare issues are worth continuing and expanding. For me, the GPA should be attempting some sort of health insurance scheme for ex-players who need urgent hospital care for injuries from their playing days but who can't afford it and end up on long waiting lists. It is sad to see some great players from the past, both club and county, hobbling around in great pain waiting without complaint to have a knee or hip looked after. Having mentioned this to Sean Quinn in the past, I am quite sure some scheme could be organised, and if anyone could do it, it would be Quinn Healthcare whose owner understands better than anyone those who laboured unselfishly in the past for the greater good.

If a society is to be judged on its caring and civilised side by its treatment of the old, then it is time for the GAA to make a move in this direction. It would probably be a nightmare to try and come up with a workable scheme but it is still worth trying.

The GPA should also be bringing forward proposals on a new championship format, especially

as a players' survey in this paper recently showed a lot of dissatisfaction with the present format. Most players feel it served a purpose but it is time for the next move.

The same applies to club fixtures. In many places they are still a mess, giving neither continuity nor structure. Players going to the US this summer were often able to play out there on the 60-day rule and miss nothing in Ireland. It is time for the GPA to get involved in this area. The only way to do this is to expand the GPA to the point where they can have representation on every important committee in every county. That will take time but the biggest number of players who need help from the GPA are toiling far from the bright lights.

So yesterday was not the end of the process but the beginning. It was a ridiculous situation that the GAA held back on recognition for so long and Christy Cooney deserves some plaudits for putting this anomaly to bed. So too do the players who persevered for so long when none of them had the time for any type of labour agitation. With player grants seemingly put in the mincer for ever, the GAA and GPA must now work together to plot a better way forward for all players, not just the elite.

It should have always been that way but it takes some people a long time to see the light.

Sunday Independent

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