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.