Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Dessie and the GPA

Eason bookshop. The 28th December. The sales.

And there it was.

Dessie. Tangled Up in Blue.

On sale at .99 cent!

Even though they were basically giving the book away for free, I still had to think twice . But then I thought to myself, less than one Euro to discover why Dessie is so bitter towards the GAA, maybe it's a price worth paying. So, I splashed out.

What did I learn? Noting new. Yes, the GPA has some rationale for existing and has done great work in terms of ensuring better welfare for players. Improvements in expenses, training and medical facilities, insurance and injury schemes for players and ensuring their medical bills are paid were warranted. The GPA deserves credit for provoking the GAA into action on these matters. It also seems that the GPA advanced the cause of the state of play for many of the weaker hurling counties. Again, a worthy cause and the GPA should be praised for advancing their case.

But, what is clear from the book, and is largely unexplained - save for the Maoist attitude of some county board officials, which Dessie has experienced, and one that the majority of GAA members are well aware of and have suffered themselves - is the reason for Dessie's spite towards officials and the GAA.  Ultimately, it seems, his hostility stems from his opposition to where power lies in the GAA - in the committees, county boards and councils.

Dessie makes it clear; he wants that to change. If you've no inter-county experience, in Dessie's opinion, your view doesn't count. Inter-county is the be-all and end-all. Nevermind the rest of us. We don't matter, because we didn't play at the highest level.

Dessie wants the GAA should turn its sporting pyramid on its head and build from the top. (Luckily for the Egyptian tourist industry the pharaoh's construction supervisors didn't think likewise). 

"I maintain that the inter-county teams remain the ideal and, if well attended to, will nurture all levels beneath it, inspiring young players to persevere with the game".

If you get the 1% right, hey presto, the other 99% will fall into place. Simple. Because, once the inter-county stars are well looked-after, the rest of the GAA can run on aspiration and inspiration. Just like football in England perhaps?

The Premier League, where the best and highest paid footballers in the world strut their stuff every week. Yet, this in the country where the national team can't even qualify for the European Championships and as David Conn, explains in the "The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football", English football is sharply polarised between rich and poor, and has lost its soul.

The reason is that Dessie doesn't consider the inter-county players on the same terms as other members of the GAA. Because the inter-county players are making a greater contribution than all other members, they should be getting something "more tangible" for their efforts. Kudos and adulation is not enough.

"For years, I had listened to players sitting on bar stools over the winter complaining about how they were treated. They didn't really buy into the traditional GAA line, certainly not the one that highlighted our ethereal rewards - honour, adulation, camaraderie, recognition - they wanted something more tangible."

Does anyone really believe the GPA when they say they don't want professionalism in GAA?

"No matter how many times they were told that they were just another part of the Association, many inter-county players knew they weren't. Who, after all, was filling the coffers of the GAA, allowing all the myth-makers to wax lyrical about how wonderful an organisation it was?"

Could it be ordinary GAA people? The ones who contribute at the bottom - through volunteering, coaching etc - and at the top of the organisation - by paying to watch the games. And unlike the soccer grassroots, who watch the Premier League every week in England, paying outrageous money to see the games in the stadia and on TV, and buy the jerseys, the GAA grassroots can sleep comfortably knowing that their hard earned cash has not gone directly to some chav footballer (Noel Gallagher's words, not mine) who has been in an orgy, at a 4,000 pound a man Christmas party. The GAA's grassroots know that they get value for their money, because what they spend in Croke Park gets reinvested in the game, not porn sites (Shaun Wright Philips), nor fast cars, nor bling bling.

And with the GPA here to stay - as Dessie keenly empahsizes in the penultimate chapter - it's going to be hard to keep it that way.

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