Sunday, December 23, 2007

GAA: for the love of the game

Listening to Dessie Farrell and Donal Og Cusack talking about the "modern" players' commitment to playing GAA you would think that GAA players before their time, had simply nothing better to do, but turn-up from time to time without much training to play a game.

Leafing through some match programmes I have at home, a nice anecdote caught my eye, which shows that in those days it wasn't all that straightforward to represent your county.

In 1975 Gerry Delaney, of the legendary Stradbally clan from Laois was working as a Garda in Ashbourne county Meath, but continued to play with Stradbally and the Laois U-21 team. Having defeated Kildare in the opening round of the Leinster Championship, Laois faced Meath in the quarter-final in Newbridge.

Living in Meath Gerry had to travel down to the game and the best way of doing so was to get a lift with the Meath lads. Joey Tormey, a member of the local Donaghmore club arranged for him to travel with "Scupps" White, Phil Smyth and Eamon O'Brien. As Gerry recounts "It was faily quiet on the way down...just a small bit of banter".

Against a side which included six Meath seniors Laois played exceptionally well, defeating Meath by 5-5 to 3-9, with Gerry Delaney scoring four of Laois's goals!

Gerry recalls the aftermath "having had something to eat with the Laois team after game, my lift back to Ashbourne with the Laois management didn't materialise so I had to ask the Meath lads if they would oblige. They were happy to do so but only after threatening to leave me stranded in Naas! It wasn't the same mini-bus that I went to the game in and the craic wasn't any better...understandably!"

They dropped him in Dunshaughlin and Gerry had to thumb home to Ashbourne.

Gerry didn't feel abandonned by the GAA. Since then he's given 30 years of service, first as a player and now as a club official -serving as chairman for no fewer than three separate terms- with his adopted club of Donaghmore/Ashbourne.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Outcome of Cavan Grassroots meeting

Although the turnout was significantly lower than last week's meeting, around 100 people took time out from their Christmas shopping to attend the anti-pay-for-play meeting in Cavan last night.

Significantly four counties: Armagh, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone, will all work on motions for Congress. It's not yet clear whether these motions will outrightly oppose the scheme, or simply call for a debate on the matter. 

That is the very least all GAA members deserve. It's a critical issue for the future of the GAA, so a sensible debate is required among all the GAA's members, not just the hierarchy. Every member's voice should count. And it's a good time of year to make that happen. A lot of clubs are holding their annual meetings at this time of year, so bring the issue up in your club, have a sensible discussion and establish your club's position, which can then be brought forward to the County Convention. That way, when Congress meets in April, the position of the majority will be heard.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Grassroots GAA Meeting in Cavan tonight!

Don’t Forget Cavan!

The meeting in Cavan organised by gaels from Longford and north Leinster goes ahead tonight (Wednesday) night as follows;

Wednesday 19 December
Cavan Crystal Hotel

We know the week that’s in it … and the demands that’s on people’s time. But pay-for-play is the agenda item for GAA people … so if you can, come along tonight.

You’ll be out the door by 9.00pm. Can you give 90 minutes to defend a core GAA principle?

DRA … Drastic Action?
When we set out to oppose pay-for-play we agreed to do it through the GAA system … and to all the while play the ball, not the man.

The DRA is part of the GAA system so we’re using it.

The appeal has been lodged and is being supported/developed by a number of true GAA “legal-eagles” … all on that real GAA basis, ie “No Charge!”

As of now there’s been no feedback from the DRA but we’ll keep you informed re developments.

A Flowing Tide?
As of Monday night, the pay-for-play arrangements approved by Central Council have been either directly opposed or seriously questioned at or by the Clare; Cork; Derry; Down; Fermanagh; Mayo; Tipperary; and Tyrone Conventions or County Committee meetings.

This story isn’t over yet!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Opposition to the grant grows

Your Chance to Make Another Statement!

Fellow gaels in north Leinster have arranged a public meeting on the pay-for-play arrangements as follows:

Wednesday 19 December
7.30 pm
Cavan Crystal Hotel, Cavan Town

Let’s see what the south Ulster/north Leinster/north Connacht view on all this stuff is. If you’re from there, then turn up at the Cavan Crystal next Wednesday night. Bring others with you … and tell even more people about it. This is one of the most important things you’ll be asked to do to help reverse the pay-for-play agenda … so let’s have a turnout that makes a statement!

If you’re getting this email you’re a believer. If you’re a believer, be there!
(If anyone sees a bearded gentlemen in a red suit … invite him along!)

After Last Saturday …
After the approval of the pay-for-play arrangements last Saturday - by Central Council only, remember (and in my official guide Central Council is just one of five levels of “jurisdiction” within the GAA, the other four being Clubs; Counties; Provinces; and Congress) - what’s now to stop this scenario:

  • Millionaire A offers County A’s Senior Football Panel members €/£20,000 a man to win the All-Ireland

  • He offers Player B from County B €/£50,000 to come on board … and gives him a job/address in County A

  • All parties sign an agreement stating that they “recognise that the GAA is an Amateur Association and state their absolute commitment to the maintenance of the amateur status of the Association. They state that nothing in this agreement shall be allowed to undermine the amateur status of Gaelic games”. (Does that last bit sound familiar?)

In the new post-8 December world how can the GAA legally or morally oppose such a scenario? It’s performance-based; County panel-specifc; isn’t “our” money; and will be paid/distributed by a third party. And there’s a paper guaranteeing the amateur status. So it clearly isn’t pay for play! (It’s definitely time for that bearded gentleman in the red suit!)

Up Down! Up Tyrone!
Tyrone and Down will meet in next year’s Ulster SFC (GPA strikes etc permitting of course!). Whatever the outcome, we’ll know we have two true GAA counties going head-to-head.

On Sunday Down voted unanimously to reject last Saturday’s pay-for-play deal. On Tuesday night Tyrone voted 152:1 to reject any meddling with Rule 11 via grants or any other sleight-of-hand. Tyrone’s mathematics are interesting in that they almost certainly reflect the proper proportions involved in this whole issue. Don’t let’s pretend there isn’t a “GPA view”. There is. And it has a right to be heard. But for every GAA person holding that view we’d be very confident there’d be 150 who don’t hold it.

To its shame last Saturday made no attempt to reflect or seek the views of the 150.

You’re Growing … and Growing … and Growing!
As of last night, 12 December, there’s 521 of you out there. Thank you for supporting the opposition to pay-for-play.

We believe this is now on the agenda for Congress 2008. And we intend to keep the debate rolling right up until then. To do that we need your help.

Stay with us!

Keep raising this issue!

Don’t accept that the fat lady has sung (she hasn’t even warmed up yet!)

Keep reinforcing what the GAA’s really about!

And come to the Cavan Crystal Hotel next Wednesday night!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Latest from Oppposition to Grants Campaign

Black Saturday
Despite the clear opportunity to defer and go out for consultation, Central Council went ahead and approved pay-for-play on Saturday. Having just driven a horse and cart through Rule 11, it was a wee bit rich of them to then tell the rest of us to go away and examine our consciences about breaches of amateur status at club and county level. Nonetheless there’s something in what they say. This cancer has been eating away at the insides of the GAA for a while. But just because you’ve a cancer in one place is no reason to start injecting yourself with botulism somewhere else!

Doire Abu!
Derry’s County Convention today unanimously passed a motion opposing grants/pay-for-play. They join Mayo as counties fully opposed to where the GAA is being brought to. Conventions are now coming thick and fast. Try to go to yours and make the case against the implementation of what Central Council passed on Saturday.

“Questions and Answers”There may be a bit of coverage of pay-for-play on RTE’s Q&A tonight (Monday). Watch it and see … and get others to do likewise!

Not Our Style
Some of today’s media coverage was not good for our President, Nickey Brennan. We took no pleasure in it. Nickey’s our President, put there by us. In opposing pay-for-play we’re not about rubbishing anybody. What we are about is upholding a core GAA value.

What’s Next?
Some “malcontents” (by the way as of 10.00pm last night there’s 407 of you registered here) in the midlands and south of the country want to hold meetings along the lines of the Elk/Toome event. It’s not yet clear if the meetings will be held before or after Christmas … but as soon as anything’s organised we’ll let you know.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Latest news on opposing the grant for the GPA

Just to keep you "rumpish malcontents" updated ...a few bits-and-pieces.

God Bless Mayo!
Mayo have now started to lead the way - a 100% County Committee vote against pay-for-play (aka grants/awards/whatever).

They've set a lead.Let's get in behind them!

What Can You Do To Help?

There's a few things you could do to stop pay-for-play:

1. If you know your Central Council delegate, lobby him before Saturday
2. Bring this issue up in your Club
3. Try to get it discussed at your County Convention
4. Talk to people about it: tell them why we think the way we do

Above all, keep your commitment and enthusiasm!

The Future That's Ahead Of Us: An Email From a Limerick Rugby Man
I read Mark Conway's article in the Irish Independent today. He makes some excellent points. I am not what you would consider a GAA man. I go to the Limerick games, but I am a rugby player. What the GAA have done now is what rugby did 10 years ago.

Ten years ago, at twenty years of age, I played in a thriving club scene. Then clubs started paying players. So players migrated to the clubs that paid the better money. To compete, other clubs increased the amount they paid and the circle went on until the clubs went bankrupt and every volunteer a club had stopped working for the club. "Why should I do the club draw/mark the pitches/wash the jerseys/man the bar/coach the team/etc for nothing when so-and-so is getting £50 for playing on a Saturday?"

Club rugby is dead in Ireland. We have an elite of 30 rugby players in Ireland, there are 98 other professionals who fill the gaps. No-one plays club anymore. Clubs who fielded 8 adult teams ten years ago, struggle to field 3 now. There are numerous reasons for this, but one is definitely professionalism. Most clubs are now two clubs within a club - the paid first team and the rest. The rest wonder why they bother.

I played on the first team in three clubs (I moved as I moved cities for work). I was offered pay in all. My parish club in Limerick, whose games I attended since I was old enough to go and watch my dad and for whom my only childhood ambition was to play on the first XV, wanted to pay me for what I loved doing.

I played on a team with my three brothers, for my parish, representing my family and my community. This is the 'place' Mark talks about. This is sport and there is no greater feeling that this - the feeling you belong and that you are wearing a jersey your father wore, that you are only minding it to pass on to the next generation.

My heroes where the guys who played on the first team before me. They coached and supported me now. How could I take pay for play when they didn't? How could I look them in the eye? I couldn't and refused the money.

And whilst we are on sacrifice - I trained six days a week and played two games a week (college and club) - I trained twice a day some days and at least once a day at the time. But it wasn't sacrifice, I loved it. I preferred playing than working in a bar earning pocket money.

If you don't love it, don't do it. Someone else will gladly take your place. If it's money you want, take an extra job. As a first team player (or county player), you are in the most privileged position in your sport. Everyone wants to swap places with you. Everyone wants what you have.

And you are only minding that jersey, hanging onto it as long as you can. Cos a hell of a lot went before you, a hell of a lot more will come after you. It's only the efforts of everyone that has helped put you in that position (starting with your parents and the coaches you had in your club since you started).

I admire the GAA greatly. I'd urge that you don't go down the pay for play route. You have something very special in your organisation.

Keep it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Someone is Shouting "Stop!" (the grant)

Over 400 Ulster gaels met in The Elk near Toome on Wednesday 5 December.

The meeting was called to see what the views of grass-roots GAA people were following the announcement days earlier of an inter-County GAA pay-per-play package agreed by some people in the GAA; the GPA; the Irish Sports Council; and the Irish Government.

Prior to the meeting email and telephone support had been received from concerned gaels in 28 different Counties across Ireland. Almost thirty different people, GAA men and women from across Ulster spoke from the floor on the night. The consistent threads across the contributions were:

1. The GAA is being presented with pay-for-play, however it's being dressed up
2. The Association's amateur status must be sacrosanct
3. Planned decisions on the proposals at this weekend's meeting of Central Council should be deferred
4. A full consultation on the proposals across all levels and units of the GAA needs to be facilitated.
5. It was also made clear that GAA players are respected for the honourable place and central role they have in the Association: proper player representation needs to be urgently looked at. Similar respect was voiced for the GAA as an organisation; for its structures and systems; and for its President.

At the end of the meeting there was unanimous support for the following resolutions:

1. There must be no change (other than properly mandated via Congress) to the GAA's amateur status as presented in its Rule 11: the current proposals fly in the face of that amateur status and Rule 11
2. The discussion of the current proposals planned for the forthcoming Management and Central Council meetings should be deferred
3. A full and proper discussion of these issues should take place across the GAA

Those present would proceed to use their own Club and County channels to voice their opposition to the current proposals.

Finally, the clear consensus was that should the current proposals be approved before a proper consultation with the membership is carried out, then a further meeting would be called to again gauge opinion.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Confusion over the grants agreement continues

Micky Harte wants us to learn from this sordid experience and "to try to understand each other's position".

If only it were that simple. There's been such a racket made about player welfare and the grants issue that we don't quite know how it became such a divisive issue within the organisation and came to the point of a strike. We're all confused about what has happened. We're just as confused about the deal that has been done.

Cliona Foley, in today's Irish Independent, criticizes the deal, blaming the GAA (nothing new in that) for not diverting its considerable resources towards the players. According to her analysis thanks should go to the government for cleaning up the GAA's mess. If the GAA had "increased player expenses, funded a centralised hardship fund (especially for long-term injured) and employed a 'players' ombudsman' in Croke Park" everything would have been hunky-dory. Such action would have averted this rigmarole and not taken funds from other, more needy, sports.

But, read the GPA's statement, surely you at least did that Cliona?, and the GPA sums up this sorry episode in the following way: "The GPA has campaigned vigorously for over five years for the introduction of state funding for inter-county GAA players in an effort to achieve parity of esteem for these players in the world of Irish sport." Parity of esteem, coequality, consistency - call it what you will - with other sports, that's what the GPA claim to have achieved through this deal. "The inequality that existed within Irish sport needed to be addressed." according to Kieran McGeeney. The GPA felt that the government discriminated against intercounty players with Charlie McCreevey's tax breaks, which they could not take advantage of because of their amateur status, so they felt it was up to the government to make that right. And, in their view, with this deal it has.

That doesn't correspond with Cliona's analysis. It's also not consistent with what has happened.

To get their money from the government the GPA needed the GAA's support. But, alas they didn't have it, the GAA didn't, and still doesn't, recognise the GPA. So to coerce the GAA, and use the power of the organisation as leverage against the government, the GPA kicked up a stink about player welfare and threatened to strike against the very organisation the players claim they love so dearly. On agreeing the deal with the government and the GAA, Dessie Farrell, the GPA Chief Executive, said "The GPA has brought the welfare of players to the top of the priority list and underpinning our drive to improve welfare has been the campaign for state funding".

It was all about player welfare. So, maybe Cliona iss right. But, and it's a big but, if one reads the terms and conditions of the landmark deal, condition number 8, clearly states:

"Player welfare is a separate issue for which the GAA takes full responsibility."

What is going on?

It seems the GPA has played both parties off and in Paul Galvin's words they've "nailed it". Not only have they played a Machiavellian hand - "the ends justifying the means" - but it seems they can continue legitimately lobbying Croke Park for improvements in player welfare.

It is also not clear why the GAA, i.e. Croke Park has acquiesced to this deal. The GAA originally agreed to the grant and then backtracked quickly when it was pointed out that if their fingerprints were found on the notes it would essentially be the same as "pay for play". Nicky Brennan declared "that our amateur status was paramount and non-negotiable, and we are satisfied now that this scheme does not impact on that." However, it seems that the Irish Sports Council (ISC) will not be directly involved in administering the GAA player grants. It will be Croke Park and county boards who will have to distribute the money. So what's the difference now?

It's hard to believe, as both sides would like you to, that deal struck makes all the commotion in the newspaper, on the radio and on the television over the past six months just been a hoo-ha about nothing.

The vague statements made by both sides don't address the fundamental question. How is amateurism protected through the establishment of the principle that inter-county players get renumerated because they are inter-county players? How, as Kieran McGeeney claims, does the grant system "copper-fasten" amateurism?

The grants scheme sets a precedent from which there is no turning back. The scheme will run on a three-year basis. So, now that the country is set to slip into deficit for the first time since 2002, are we going to go through this brinkmanship again in three years time if the money from the government is not forthcoming and the GAA has to pay up?

One thing is clear there has been no consultation with the membership of the GAA. The deal is being rushed through by Croke Park without a proper communication of the detail. There's no understanding of what's going on.

The Hoganstand informs readers that there will be a ’Grassroots’ meeting to discuss opposition to grants at the at the The Elk Entertainment Complex, Toome, Co. Antrim on Wednesday night, December 5. Former Armagh player Barry O’Hagan, who now works as Sports Development Officer for Derry City Council, will chair the meeting , while it’s understood that former GAA president Peter Quinn and former GAA Trustee Jimmy Treacy may also attend. They have a lot to discuss.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why you should oppose the GPA strike - Reason No. 4

Playing for your county is a choice. It requires dedication and commitment above the norm. Nobody is denying that. But, why try to equate this commitment, as the GPA do, in financial terms? Inter-county players, though admittedly not all of them, already "profit" from their talents. As this letter to the Indo points out, "the very ones who are calling for strike action are the ones who are, ironically, reaping the greatest rewards from the sport". There are huge perks for the modern-day GAA player, jobs, endorsements, training camps abroad, holidays in exotic locations (with their wives/girlfriends paid for!), etc.

Comments from Kilkenny hurler Eddie Brennan, are revealing of the GPA's true thinking. He's resentful that his participation in Gaelic games has curbed his earning potential in the Celtic Tiger economy, as he's unable to do 'nixers' in the evening to supplement his income. Eddie's values, and those of the GPA, are clearly socio-economic. Davy Fitz today, confirms this assessment. A former GPA member, he quit because, in his words, "they are all about money". Contrast their attitude with that of Colm McCullagh, who chose to quit paid football with Omagh Town when Mickey Harte selected him for the Tyrone team in 2004. Explaining his decision, he talked about the dreams and emotions of winning and All-Ireland, not money and compensation.

Playing for your county is voluntary in both meanings of the word - optional and unpaid. Let's keep it that way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Why you should oppose the GPA strike - Reason No. 3

Playing for your county is an honour and a privilege. By striking the players are demonstrating that their loyalty is conditional - conditional on reimbursement. Once they fumble in the greasy till there's no turning back. They're soiled, and from now on, it's just a question of how dirty they can get.

Last year, in a little publicised move, England's footballers pledged to donate all of their match fees - win, lose or draw - to charitable causes. It was suggested that playing for their country should be an honour, rather than a pay packet. Every one of the players agreed. Ok, so they are millionaires, but the point is they wanted to demonstrate their commitment, dedication and their loyalty, by breaking the financial link. They wanted to establish a principle.

Dessie Farrell and the Greedy Players' Association want the opposite to happen. They want that link established once and for all. They want to formalise the connection between representing their county and compensation. They suffer from an inferiority complex and lack respect because they don't get financially rewarded for their commitment. Dessie Farrell claims that the players' assertion of their rights in this manner is just another initiative in the history of the GAA which has moved the organisation closer to professionalism. But, paid administrators, paid coaches, paid support staff for teams, corporate boxes, the advent of sponsorship logos on jerseys, ticket prices, hospitality and broadcasting rights have done what paying the players won't do, advanced the game and the oassociation at all levels. How else could the GAA have competed over the last twenty years with other sports and other leisure activities for the interest of Ireland's youth? What Dessie Farrell and the GPA's supporters are too shortsighted to see, or simply don't want to see, is the Pandora's box of pain that paying compensation to players is going to open up. What was good for the GAA as a whole is now only good for a small minority.

In the 1950s, when the Dublin hurling team enjoyed a period of success, there were many complaints that the Dublin team was full of "culchies", who worked with the Civil Service and lived in Dublin. In years to come, when the born and bred Dubs can't get a place in the Dublin teams because of culchie imports, attracted by the bigger crowds and better wages, we'll look back on this point, and wish we could turn the years again.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Why you should oppose the GAA strike - Reason No. 2

The amateur ethic of the GAA doubles as a community ethic. Compensation to players will create a divide between the elite and the grassroots. The most fundamental unit of GAA competition is the club side. The local roots feed up to the counties, creating a unity of purpose that makes the association great. The people that make the tea and sandwiches, cut the grass, line the pitch and coach the kids on a Saturday morning have a direct connection to the players that play in Croke Park in front of 80,000 in an All-Ireland. They're one and the same. That's where the strength of the Association lies. Why ruin it?

Compensation to players would break the "virtuous circle" upon which the GAA is built. What do I mean by virtuous circle? Well, think about the cycle of development in the GAA. Coaches, volunteers and supporters play and support their teams at club level. The success of the clubs and the development of talent is taken to the next level by the county teams, where the best players from clubs are invited to display their talents on a bigger stage. The people from the clubs who facilitated their development are happy to pay their hard earned money to attend these games because they played a part in making the players, supporting them and putting in place the stadia. There's a direct link, whether or not you come from the same club as the "Gooch" or any other inter-county player, you played a part in their development. Most importantly, you know that the money you pay to see the inter-county games will be re-invested in all levels of the game, thereby allowing the cycle of development to start anew. It's an unbroken circle. Compensation for players will break the cycle. Compensation for players will mean that the money generated at the top will no longer find its way back to the bottom.

Look what has happened with since rugby turned professional in Ireland. Supposedly, it has produced a "golden generation" of players making the best international team ever, not to mention successful provincial sides, Leinster and Munster. Scrape this veneer (as the performance at the Rugby World Cup demonstrated) and what has professionalism done for the game in Ireland? As Tom McGurk (Rugby pays price of professionalism) writes, rugby in Ireland is now in a terrible state. "The paucity of playing members and the incessant cost demands has hit the clubs hard in the last decade. Many of Ireland's once most famous rugby clubs are a mere shadow of their former selves. Still largely surviving on the goodwill of the golden oldies, many that once put our five or six junior 15s out on a Saturday, can now barely scrape two or three teams together."

Look at the gap between the players and the rest of the community in soccer. Take the Premier League for example. The Premier League works very hard through the Football Foundation to ensure that they are seen to be part of the community and that everyone is benefitting from the team. Why do they do this? Because the natural link between the Premier League's and the communities where they are based has been broken. The money and the benefits of the big clubs don't find their way down to the lower level of the game to the people who support the clubs. It has to be artificially created through a form of corporate social responsibility.

Professional sport creates a dynamic whereby most of the money generated goes toward the professional code of the game which caters for less than 1% of the players. We do not want a situation where a significant and ever-increasing proportion of GAA income goes not to grass roots, clubs, underage support and development, but to pay players. The GAA supports the game at all levels.

There's a difference between the GAA and the sports entertainment business. It's not a business. It's not set up as a business. That's what distinguishes it from other sports. Let's fight to keep it that way.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why you should oppose the GPA strike - Reason No. 1

In the GAA world there are three major groupings, the players, the elected officers and the supporters. We know where the other two stand on this issue. But, what about the supporters-who after all make up 98% of the GAA? Ordinary clubmen and supporters need to stand up and make their voice heard on the GPA and their ultimate agenda. A lot of people are opposed to the strike but their voice is dissipated across the Internet and barely mentioned by the media. We need to change this by coming together to demonstrate our opposition. I'm trying to take this initiative by announcing a call to action. As a first step Declare for your County by signing the petition.

There are also those out there who say, "Why not? Why shouldn't they get a few bob?" They need to be educated on the Pandora's Box of pain and trouble that paying a grant to the players will open up. I'll try to this over over the coming weeks.

The GPA is a Trojan Horse for pay for play. No amount of denial on their behalf can deny this. The payment of the grant to players will establish a principle that cannot be reversed. It will forevermore form a link between playing for the county and financial compensation. There will be no turning back. From this point on it becomes a question of (a) how much pay? and (b) who pays? Nickey Brennan and the Croke Park officials are right not to get involved in the mechanics of distributing the government grant. It is the government's money therefore, it should be up to the Government to find a mechanism to pay the players. There is no guarantee that the money will be granted every year by the government. In that case the GPA will undoubtedly continue to demand their grant directly from the GAA. They won't care about the source, they'll just want their money. If the GPA get €5m this year, what will they want in two years time? They tell us now that the payment of the grant is an "acknowledgement of their status as inter-county players". Undoubtedly, in a few years they will tell us that €2,500 is too small, that it is an "insult to their status as inter-county players" and that the GAA should come up with more.

How do know this? It's an inevitable process that has already been demonstrated by the short history of the GPA. The GPA agenda has changed considerably since the organisation's foundation. For nearly a decade now the GPA has improved conditions for inter-county players, and fair play to them for doing so-it was needed. When they first started out they increased the measly 12p-a-mile expense allowance and ensured that all players received hot meals after training and received free gear. But increasingly, they have sounded like workers in a sweatshop. They talk of exploitation, the absence of compensation and benefits, poor conditions, denial of rights and emotional humiliation (because they look at the rugby and soccer players and can't help feeling that they are being taken for a ride). Before welfare meant player representation and better conditions. Less than ten years later it now means money in their back pockets. If the GPA's current demands are met, then they will look for more. They are already speaking in those terms. Just this week Donal O'Neill spoke of the GPA getting a percentage of any new television deal negotiated by Croke Park. If this isn't moving the GAA to pay for play, what is? It is clear that their longterm aim is a move towards professionalism in some form or other, and no amount of denying it can hide this fact.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gaelic football is a wonderful game, were I an Irishman I'd play Gaelic football till the day I dropped dead - Zinzan Brooke

Not if you were at Parc Tailteann last week for the Meath Senior County Final. Seneschalstown and Navan O'Mahonys played out a draw, in what was rightly reported as "a drab, dull, uninspiring and downright awful final". Despite the presence of All-Star Stephen Bray, and several other players from the Meath team, there was little entertainment and no quality football for the €20 entry fee.

It has to be said it was very poor value for money. But then why does a final always carry with it the expectation that it will be a good game? Perhaps it's the hype. Perhaps it's the occasion. Take the Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa for example. Official face-value tickets that were priced at £1,023 were offered online for a staggering £25,000! Had they not seen any of England's previous matches? The ballyhoo surrounding the Rugby World Cup obviously got to them and took over their senses. But that's besides the point.

What I'm getting at is that it is more and more rare to see effusive and fulsome praise in the post-match analysis of a Gaelic football match. Mayo v. Dublin last year was an exception. It had every thing and more. There was pre-match shenanigans with both teams warming-up at the Hill 16 end of the pitch, as Mayo imposed themselves on Dublin physically and pyschologically before the ball was thrown in. The tension and intensity never abated from there. There was passion, there was heroism from Ciaran MacDonald and there was euphoria and jubliliation at the end. It was a thrilling game and a great comeback by Mayo. Best of all though-the football was fast paced and free flowing with great scores, points and goals, throughout the game.

That match epitomised everything that is great about the game. As Zinzan Brooke, All Black ruby legend, pointed out in his autobiography Gaelic Football has everything. It's "great for elevation skills, anticipation, kicking off either foot (a must), running, passing by hand or kick-passing". It "demands harp hand-eye co-ordination, ambidextrous skills, kicking for the natural arc off left foot and right". "And the contact! The contact made the blood run whether you were taking it or giving it." So why aren't these qualities translating into great games on a more consistent basis?

Martin Carney believes it's because Traditional Football is Dead - running and handpassing have replaced the catch and kick template impacting on the skill level in the game. Is it because there is too much emphasis on fitness and conditioning at the expense of traditional skills in training? Or is it because players are fitter and the premium is now on a possession game? Should we blame the handpass? Whatever it is, we need more of Zinzan Brooke's conception of Gaelic football.

`If I was Irish I'd play Gaelic' says All Black Zinzan Brooke, Irish Times, 14 November 1997

Playing Gaelic and Aussie Rules added up in a way to the sort of rugby player I am

Rather than charging out of the Lansdowne Road tunnel tomorrow attired in his fearsome All Black kit, imagine for a moment that - by some twist of fate or birth - Zinzan Brooke was an Irishman. Now, what sport do you think he would play?

The answer is Gaelic football, a sport he actually has a strong association with thanks to his days playing club football Down Under with Roskill Rangers in the 1980s. In his autobiography Zinny - The Zinzan Brooke Story, the New Zealand rugby colossus even goes so far as to state: "Were I an Irishman I'd play Gaelic football till the day I dropped dead." Brooke's introduction to GAA came courtesy of another All Black, Bernie McCahill who, back in 1983, enticed him into playing club football during the summer months. In his book, Brooke recalls: "I unashamedly wallowed in the game, great for elevation skills, anticipation, kicking off either foot (a must), running, passing by hand or kick-passing. And the contact! The contact made the blood run whether you were taking it or giving it." One of Brooke's most cherished recollections of his days playing football - he actually played in the Australasian championship for six years - was coming face to face with Jim Stynes, the former Dublin minor and brother of current inter-county star Brian.

"In the Australasian championships we played a team which had a giant named Jimmy Stynes they had caught and caged somewhere in the wilds. They unleashed him every Sunday and pointed him toward the opposition and this day they pointed him at me and said, `Kill, Jimmy, kill.' My head came up to his armpit, which was an area I would not have chosen, but there it was all the same, just above my nose. "`Zinny', I said, `you're not going to play much ball unless you get under this guy and take his legs out'. So with impeccable timing I drove into his legs and on over the touchline and planted him into the Carlaw Park grandstand. He did not die. He got up, shook himself shaggily, grinned amiably, said, `Kill, Jimmy, kill' and came right back into the game.

"It was probably on the strength of that tackle on him that I made the Australasian team, an achievement no one seems especially interested in conveying to the Hall of Fame. Playing Gaelic and Aussie Rules added up in a way to the sort of rugby player I am. In Gaelic, especially, the demands were for sharp hand-eye co-ordination, ambidextrous skills, kicking for the natural arc off left foot and right. Were I an Irishman I'd play Gaelic football till the day I dropped dead." The GAA were actually going to invite Brooke to visit Croke Park today but were informed that he normally rests on the eve of a match. "We'd love to have him as our guest some other time," said the GAA's Pat Daly.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The GPA's Status Anxiety

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton believes there's something the vast majority of people desire even more than money. Whatever their background or social class, whatever their age or country of origin, what they desperately crave is status". With regard to the Greedy Players' Association it seems he's right.

The organisation fulfills his hypothesis perfectly. The GPA representatives Dessie Farrell, Chief Executive, and Donal Og Cusack, Chairman, whine and moan relentlessly in the newspapers and on the radio that the GAA, or more specifically, the administrators who they refer to as Croke Park, have a complete lack of respect for the players. In line with de Botton's thesis, the motivation driving the creation of the GPA was the desire to be treated with respect. The aim of the formation of the GPA, we were told at the time, was to improve the players' representation and conditions.

Except now, eight years on, the arguments have evolved, the goalposts have changed. Respect is no longer about conditions and representation. When the GPA complains that Croke Park does not value the players properly, it is no longer talking in terms of gear, facilities and mileage expenses. It's now about the money made "off their backs". Respect now means "Show us the money".

The evolution is such that GPA players now equate the resolution of the grant issue, i.e. money in their pockets, as "an acknowledgement of their status as county players". Now they judge their status in terms of financial achievement. A sense of being cared for and thought valuable culturally is not enough. The honour, the 'goodies', the flattery, and the attention earned from being a county player no longer conform to their ideals of dignity and respect. It seems their sense of self-worth and self-esteem has been diminished, because unlike the rugby and soccer players, who they meet at promotions and awards, they are not being financially compensated for participation in their sport.

And they're behaving like "spoilt children" to get their way. Their attitude demonstrates their lack of appreciation for the position they are in and that they have lost touch with the grassroots. Some within their ranks know this and have spoken out. These dissenters know that fans and supporters are fundamentally opposed to strike action (see An Fear Rua) and resent the way the GPA representatives are behaving.

The grassroots want to be inspired not held to ransom. The GPA it seems don't care. They want what Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) in the movie Jerry Maguire, called "the Kwan". "Kwan means love, respect, community... and the dollars too".

Through their fixation on the latter, however, they're fast losing the rest of the package.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Club v County

Playing with a GAA club provokes mixed emotions. Of course club players like to see their county winning games, being successful, and bringing back an All-Ireland title in September. But, generally progress for the county team comes at the expense of club players: it creates havoc with club championship fixtures, training schedules and, as a result, club players' social lives. That's why, as a club player in Meath, I somewhat resented Meath's success, and couldn't help feeling disloyal, half hoping for their early exit from the championship. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Club players who take their football and/or hurling seriously, are committed to training hard for games and watching what they eat and drink, can't help feeling conflicted, as a defeat for their county leaves the summer open for club championship games, and maybe even a summer holiday.

This year, for example, the Meath club championship started on the weekend of 15 April. It's run on a round robin basis so each team has four matches to decide the quarter-final pairings. The second championship match was played on 24 June after Meath's defeat to Dublin in a replay. Meath's run in the qualifiers, which took them to the All-Ireland semi-final, meant that there were no further championship games until 24 August. That's just three championship games in five months! As a result the final will not be played until the 21st October. That's frustrating and disheartening for all club players.

What other sports run their championships - the most important games - on such a stop-start basis? The worst part for the club players is the uncertainty. They had to try to keep their fitness high over this period, as every Meath game brought with it the possibility that they would be eliminated and that the club games would be played the following week. On five separate occasions this year the club players had to prepare for a game which would have been played if Meath had been defeated. Four times it didn't happen. Consequently, it's very difficult to plan training schedules for players to peak at the right time and just as hard for amateur players to maintain a plateau of fitness for such an extended period, without regular games. And, as for booking summer holidays. Impossible! Not even Mystic Meg would try. So where's the satisfaction for the club players?

That's why the GAA's efforts to improve the fixture logjam for the clubs should be welcomed. Although, as the GAA admitted in putting forward the plans, "acceptance of the proposals here will not resolve the problem of how to provide club players with a more satisfactory programme of games", it's a very welcome first step demonstrating that they "are serious about addressing the issue". The scenario outlined above will probably continue in the short-term as the current composition of the inter-county championship does not allow much scope for championship club games to be played in tandem. However, the proposals signal a start to ending the division between club and county that has existed for so long. This is their most important feature and why they should be supported.

Club and county have to exist side by side. They are intertwined and mutually dependent. Club matches are of vital importance to the health and well-being of the GAA and they must be given the respect and prominence they rightly deserve. There's three months to digest the recommendations before Congress and build support for the proposals to be taken on board. It's time for the club players to speak out and make sure the county boards and provincial council's do so.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Fixtures: Club players deserve better

"You're a club player. You're a committed club player but aware you'll never be a committed county one. You're also going out with someone. It's March and she wants to know when you can go on holidays. You say late August, but only maybe; there's a chance there'll be a championship game but to book it all the same.

She's wondering if you'll be able to get away next weekend but you say no; there's training with the Dublin lads back and the first round of the championship only five weeks away. She's not happy but she books the holiday. Two months later, the county team draw in the first round of the championship. Your own first round is postponed...

The county lose their replay. That means they're in the qualifiers. They win their qualifier. The girlfriend asks about the weekend after next but you say there's training; the club could be out the weekend after that if the county lose. The county don't lose. A few weeks later they do. You finally have your game. In late August.

You don't have a summer holiday but you tell the girlfriend ye'll have an autumn one.

...You wait two weeks for the second round because it took a reply to decide who you'd be playing. You finally play it. Win. The next day too. The county semi-final is set for mid-October. You no longer have an autumn holiday and since it's the second year that's happened, you no longer have a girlfriend either. Play the semi-final in the muck and the rain. Lose semi-final, your fourth championship game having trained for nine months. Call girlfriend about yourselves and that holiday. Not interested.

And now, when it comes to playing next year, neither are you
". (Kieran Shannon, Sunday Tribune 06 November 2005)

Sound familiar? Are you a club player who loves his football and/or hurling, who's driven to despair from going weeks without a game, from training for a game that could be played next week or the week after, but then gets postponed time after time?

Despite what the Greedy Players' Association thinks, it's not just the inter-county players who make sacrifices and put their social lives on hold. The club players do too, and for what? - to sit out the best months of the year, June, July and August, and then have their most important games cramped into the months of October and November when pitches are heavier.

A Special Congress is set to take place on 26th January next year to address club fixtures, county fixtures, and player burden. Tomorrow GAA Player Welfare Officer, Padraig Duffy, will present a report to address this dire problem. Eugene McGee today recounts the horror stories and frustration of club players, and the failure of GAA administrations to ensure that fixture programmes are carried out. However, he's pessimistic that the drastic changes, which are so desperately needed, will be brought about: "the only way anything can be done to solve the problem is to take actions that are unpopular and GAA administrators are not in the habit of doing such things...More dates for club games cannot emerge unless there are less inter-county games but the GAA has never shown any desire to remove inter-county games from their calendar."

At Congress 2003, the then President Seán Kelly stressed the importance of the GAA club as the cornerstone of the Association and that the needs of the GAA Club must be addressed. Without the players there would be no clubs. It's time their needs were addressed.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

GAA and the money game

The GPA, Greedy Players Association, reminded us again this week (Farrell admits strike action is being considered,, 4 October) that strike action is being considered and that feelings are running high within the organisation. Donal Og Cusack, Chairman of the GPA, outlined why (Patience wearing Thin) in a self-serving whinge that should rankle with every genuine GAA fan.

In the piece, Cusack bemoans the lack of progress on the issue of compensation for players and whines against the injustices inflicted on our inter-county stars. He believes GAA players are the "laughing stock of the sporting world" and are not respected by the GAA. His attitude and tone reflect the self-interest of the organisation, showing no consideration whatsoever for the repercussions these measures could have for the future of our traditional games.

But, these arguments aren't new. This is old ground which will no doubt be turned over again and again until the Greedy Players get their way. In response I've dug out a more thoughtful perspective from the letters to the Editor of the Irish Times, in August 2005, which responds to Cusack's gripes.

Madam - ...

"Any proposed change of GAA policy should surely pass two basic tests: Will it help or hinder the long-term survival of our indigenous games? Will it help or hinder the survival of the GAA as a community-based organisation?

Arguments for monetary player compensation-an entirely separate issue from player welfare- fail both tests. Firstly, to simply survive in the face of the media-driven and sponsor-driven saturation promotion of international sports, Gaelic games at club and community "seed-bed" level need every euro the GAA can afford for coaching, promotion and development. GAA revenues really do get redistributed the the grass-roots-no fat cats get a cut. [my comments - but not if the Greedy Players get their way!]

Secondly, and more fundamentally, paying inter-county players would subvert the values and motives that make the GAA work so uniquely at community level. Parish, community and club allegiances are the very heartbeat of the GAA. They would be the first casualties of any monetary compensation regime. Why? Because human nature in any quasi-business regime is very predictable.

Over time, more and more players will change allegiance to follow the best-paying options (probably determined by the deepest sponsor pockets)...

As players begin to change their clubs and counties, the irreplaceable community heartbeat of the GAA will weaken progressively, and resuscitation will not be an option...

What about the "excessive demands" on players' time? The number of games for top players is not the problem - it's the new-era of training regimes. If the GPA and Croke Park make common cause, they can find a way to curtail the vicious circles of excessive training regimes for inter-county players and restoring a better balance between the club and county activity. [my comments - the GPA hasn't shown the slightest interest in this. Why? Player welfare is not their objective, player compensation is.] Real player welfare can be ensured by restructuring and regulation but monetary compensation is never a valid alternative, even from a thinking player's perspective.

Former Derry star Joe Brolly has forcefully made the often overlooked point that "it is the county players who get the most out of the games - the status, the excitement, the glory, the spin-offs". They do serve an important "shop-window" purpose for the games but the requirements of its shop-window should always be secondary to the objectives of an organisation.

The compensation lobby should be faced down with the basic question: where lies the greater long-term good - for the games, for the players of the future and for Irish community life?

Yours, etc, Joe Tuohy

I'm with Joe on this one.

Friday, September 28, 2007

No end in sight to ten years of tinkering

Ahead of Saturday's Special Congress in Croke Park it seems that there is little consensus on the Hurling Development Committee's proposals to once more change the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.

It's no wonder. Martin Breheny summarized the problem perfectly in Wednesday's Irish Independent, I've got format fatigue: 'There are no easy solutions, but constantly tinkering with the format is only compounding the problem... The game deserves better but while so many vested interests play the veto card the problems will continue. By changing format so often, it's merely confusing a situation where everybody knows that the only fair way to run the All-Ireland championship is through either a straight knock-out system or a 'Champions League' format.'

Hear. Hear. At least someone in the debate is speaking sense. The supporters and fans want a simple format such as those suggested above. (see also quote from Pat Daly, Head of Games Development) It would also allow for the most essential condition of a fair championship: that all teams should face the same number of games to win the championship. Alas, that's just not possible. The existence of the Leinster and Munster championships allow no scope for manoeuvre leading to the confusing and convoluted compromises such as those on the table for Saturday's meeting. The comments from Munster Council chairman, Jimmy O'Gorman, reported in Wednesday's Examiner, in response to the mooted Champions League format, demonstrate the entrenched attitudes and "we're all right, Jack" mentality that makes substantial progress impossible.

It's true that losing the Munster championship would be a great sacrifice. But hurling has always suffered from a problem of competitive balance. Recent meddling in the championship format has done little to change that as the chances of different teams winning the All-Ireland have not increased. Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary continue to dominate the championship. The rationale for change is the right one; to keep the championship compelling and to help hurling develop outside of the traditional base. Increasing the uncertainty of outcome generates interest from supporters, increases the demand for watching matches and interest in playing the game. Only radical proposals can bring about such change.

Another much talked about benefit of change would be to provide more free days for club fixtures. There is increasing frustration among club players because club fixtures have been crowded out of the summer programme to allow for the inter-county championship. Club players are dissatisfied because they don't know when they are going to play. It's simple. This impacts family and social life in particular for holiday planning. Also, when club players finally get to play their championship it's cramped into September and October. Why should they have to idle the summer months away when playing conditions are best? Club and county should be played in tandem throughout the year, whatever the injuries to the county stars.

These problems are not just limited to hurling. The football championship is also suffering the same problems of competitive balance and lack of level playing field. Without taking away from their considerable achievements it is fair to say that Kerry have their place reserved in the quarterfinals of the All-Ireland every year by virtue of the backdoor system. Win or lose the Munster final and they are in the quarter finals. Three victories later and they have won the All-Ireland. Compare that with teams from Leinster or Ulster and the paths they face to get to the quarter final stage. (For an easy comparison look at the county by county results on the Irish Times website.) Football too, at all levels, would benefit from a simple open draw knock out system or Champions League format.

However, as long as the Provincial Councils remain stubborn and self-interested there will be no simple answers and everyone will continue to lose out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The GPA has cried wolf too often

The Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) is threatening anew to hold our national games to ransom. Disgruntled with the lack of progress over how to distribute the €5 million put aside by the previous Minister for Sport, John O'Donoghue, the GPA Chief Executive, Dessie Farrell, has once again hinted at strike action (see Irish Times, 5th September 2007, GPA suggest strike action on €5 million) if the issue isn't quickly resolved. The Greedy Players' Association is impatient. They want to get their hands on the money and they want it now.

This is crying wolf one time too many (see An Fear Rua, Are the GPA like the boy who cried wolf?). It's time that the vast majority of the GAA-the volunteers, players of all levels, and supporters-stand up  to these ultimatums and let the GPA know that strike action will not be tolerated.

Sure, the GPA has some legitimate grievances, and pressure from the organization has improved the GAA's attitude to players' well being. The appointment of Paraic Duffy, a player welfare officer, by the GAA, is an example of progress, a direct result of the influence the GPA has brought to bear on GAA headquarters. Improvements in other areas on the GPA's campaign list, such as improving the insurance/injury scheme for all club and county players and taking action to solve the fixture crisis, would also be welcome improvements to our games for all players and supporters.

However, the fundamental problem with the GPA, despite their protestations to the contrary, is that they are pushing the GAA toward 'pay-for-play'. Although they say they realize this is not feasible (see for example this interview with Dessie Farrell in DCU's alumni magazine), whether be design or direct consequence, their actions are driving this dangerous momentum. 

It's hard to trust the GPA on 'pay-for-play' when one of their objectives is a collective bargaining agreement with the GAA. Do they really consider their situation is akin to negotiations between a union and employers? Read their website and the statements they make. The speak about themselves as if they were exploited workers in a sweatshop. The fix they want is easy though. Compensation can relieve their "plight". Their newly designed logo also displays their avarice, as it's a blatant rip-off of the NBA (National Basketball Association) and MLB (Major League Baseball) logos, both professional sports organizations. 

It's only very recently that the GPA has created an Associate Membership scheme to "enable all GAA players, club members, supporters/fans and officials to become part of the GPA network". The aim is to strengthen the bond between club and county. Whey has it taken them eight years? At least they can take credit for realizing that such a bond exists. Once again however, the true intention of this scheme is not clear-cut. GPA Associate  members will not have voting rights and will have no influence on the organization. What's the interest so? Well, the associate membership fee of €50 allows access to a wide range of offers and services from the GPA, not to mention, a polo shirt with the GPA logo. While a good deal on car insurance may be welcome the GPA will no doubt, use their new "grassroots" members to further legitimate their organization and in future claim that the GPA represents a broad spectrum of the GAA, top to bottom, and not just inter-county players. Watch to see how they spin this in the future and look to leverage a broader membership base in negotiations with the GAA. Or maybe that's too cynical and Dessie wants a salary to match his lofty title.

The common good of the GAA is threatened by the GPA's self-interest in pursuit of compensation. The GPA is constantly reminding us of how much financially they loose through their commitment and dedication to playing Gaelic games. Their lack of concern with reports that county boards are digging themselves into a financial black hole of debt, brought about by the increased cost of player travel, catering and medical expenses that is stretching their budgets to the limit. According to the Irish Independent, Westmeath's debt has climbed to €641,000 (see Irish Independent, August 10th 2007, Westmeath football on the brink of financial crisis) and the county board is facing a financial crisis. If you think this is an isolated case of mismanaged finances, think again. In an interview with the Sunday Independent on 10 June 2007,  Tipperary Manager, Babs Keating, revealed that the Tipperary County Board had spent €870,000 training the inter-county teams in 2006, with no success to show for it, or indeed, to pay for it. As Babs said, in his time "the players togged out under a galvanised sheet with only a lantern to light them and after training you'd just have a cup of tea and a sandwich. But the present squad aren't left for anything". If the figures are like that now what would they be like of the players are receiving payment directly? 

At a time when the GAA is coming under such financial pressure, and facing serious competition for players and members from rugby and soccer, the focus of all within the organization should be on putting money back into the game: improving competitive structures for players at all levels and working to encourage more volunteers to help out with the running of clubs and the coaching of players. 

So it's time to say enough is enough to the self-interested GPA. As TV3's 6-part documentary series, "Grass Roots of the GAA", rightly points out, the volunteers of the organization who give their time-at no cost-to coach, administer, look after grounds, coordinate fundraising, drive youngsters to games, and wash the dirty jerseys, are the real heroes of the GAA. It's their work and passion behind the scenes that is fundamental to the success of the GAA. The spotlight has been on the inter-county players for too long. They are the tip of the iceberg. It's time to talk about the unsung heroes and time the GPA stopped crying wolf, their credibility is wearing thin.