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16 New Articles

Sean Rice

Sport
Veiled threats of sanctions against the GAA have emanated from the players’ group. Strike action is thought to be on the agenda because of the failure of the GAA to be represented at a meeting of the Players Association and Minister for Sport John O’Donoghue.

The association is seeking government approved sports grants from the minister for their elite players, a proposal which the GAA has left for the incoming President Nickey Brennan to handle when he takes office. Because of the absence of GAA views from the meeting, the minister declined to discuss the matter.

In their submission, the chief executive of the Gaelic Players’ Association, Dessie Farrell, says that Gaelic footballers and hurlers are the only elite athletes who don’t qualify for tax rebates or the card system operated by the Sports Council. “Under this system there would be no financial inconvenience to the GAA and the integrity and the amateur ethos of the game would remain intact.”

Their request for government grants, estimated at around €3.5  million, followed the defeat of a proposal in the Dail - because of opposition from the Dept of Finance - for tax reliefs directed at inter-county players.

These submissions are diluted versions of earlier campaigns by the GPA for the direct payment of players for games - pay for play - and while the GAA has not ruled out support for sports grants, the ultimate aim of the GPA is just that . . . payment of players or, in short, a move to professionalism.

GAA president Sean Kelly has thrown some weight behind the idea of sports grants, stating that there may be room for manoeuvre within the amateur especially since other high performance athletes are in receipt of this type of funding. How GAA elite players will qualify is another problem.

If a successful scheme can be worked out, players’ claims for further funding will not stop there. Their association has already sought a slice of the revenue generated by the GAA for the rent of Croke Park to the Irish rugby and Soccer Associations. They have received some support for their cause not only for pay for play but for performance bonuses to be paid to players.

I’m not so sure that the full membership of the GPA are in favour of pay for play. They want the GAA to pay their expenses, and no one can argue that player welfare is not a just demand. Nobody wants to see players out of pocket for representing their counties. No player should be left short.

The GPA have claimed that in a survey they conducted recently seventy percent of their members favoured a move to professional or semi-professional status. It has been revealed, however, that 62 percent of their membership failed to respond to that survey. A seventy percent majority of those who did respond would leave a lot fewer of their members interested in a move to professionalism than the association claims.

In his annual report GAA chief executive Liam Mulvihill posed the question: “Do those who advocate pay for play truly understand what they are seeking? Semi-professionalism or professionalism would totally alter the structures upon which our games are based and would, I believe, weaken those structures so seriously as to damage the association and games irreparably.

“Indeed it is certain that in a short space of time few if any counties would be fielding teams in both codes. They simply wold neither have the resources nor the will to do so. The impact of this on the promotion of our games would be catastrophic.”

Mulvihill said the creation of an inevitable elite with the introduction of professionalism would deprive Gaelic games of the unique flavour that makes them so special. “The whole ethos of our games is a pride of place, a familiarity with those who represent us, a sense of belonging and being part of an adventure. There is no place for elitism in that sense. Pay for play would inevitably lead to an open market in which players become products to be used at the whim of merchants.”

He said there were irrefutable arguments for caring for our players as best we can. “But I cannot find an argument in favour of pay for play.”

The GPA will have a greater audience if they pursue the issue of better conditions and expenses for their members, rather than fight a cause that could herald the end of one of the greatest sporting associations in the world.

 

 

 

CRASH! tremors could be felt all the way to Belmullet. Mayo’s vulnerabilities were cruelly exposed in their nine point defeat by Dublin.

Having disposed of the likes Kerry, Fermanagh and Cork they fell victim to a team from whom they might reasonably have expected to collect that vital play-off point at Parnell Park on Saturday.

Circumstances ordained that this writer must be elsewhere at the weekend, thus missing a match and a performance that could be essential to Mayo’s progress in the championship. On the face of it, the manner of their defeat would appear to be a serious setback to the ambitions of team and management.

Assessment of individual performances is not possible in this column, other than to suggest that the conditions were not conducive to Mayo’s style, and that style without physical strength will not withstand the power of the top teams in the championship.

A glance at the television highlights of the game indicated that Mayo were the victims of a couple of wrong decisions by the referee. From my view the penalty award against them in the first half appeared unjust, and the camera at the other end indicated beyond doubt that Andy Moran was taken down in the square by two Dublin defenders, an incident ignored by the man in charge.

But while blaming the referee may salve some of the mental hurt, it might be time to restate what you have read in this column on more than one occasion: the referee must always be seen as the 16th player for the opposition. To win you must be good enough to surmount the decisions that go against you. You have got to beat the referee also.

Management had hoped to be entering their final game in the series with full points, fearful of the danger which the reawakened tiger in Tyrone threatens. Last week the All-Ireland champions repeated their championship win over Kerry, and will travel to Castlebar on Sunday week in the knowledge that the path to the semi-finals has not yet been closed off. Mayo need one point to be sure. A cracker is to be expected.

 

 

High or low, it was Willie Joe

NOBODY who  him play will forget the fielding skills of Willie Joe Padden. Those too young to remember were given an opportunity to view on TG4’s Laochra Gael during the week some of his aerial feats. Footage of the great man in action rekindled for us some great moments in the career of a man recognised throughout the country as the true exponent of high fielding.

Willie Joe first played for the county in the Seventies, a lean time in the history of Mayo football. Not a senior championship trophy was won throughout that decade. Television cameras did not frequent our pitches and only in the mid Eighties did the rest of the country become fully acquainted with the brilliance of Padden’s fielding.

Willie Joe was no six-footer. But he outjumped six-footers. Great players like Dermot Earley and Brian Mullins were never quite able to match the Belmullet master in aerial combat. He was the epitome of strength and finesse. His spring, his timing, his grasp of the ball high in the air all combined to form one elegant piece of action.

The TG4 footage was a reminder of what we are missing today. There is no reward for such skill. Managers, desperate for victory, have found ways to counter high fielders. Let him take it down, they tell their charges, but don’t allow him to use it. A few high fielders still adorn the game, but none with the grace of Willie Joe Padden. No All-Ireland honour came his way, and no one deserved it more.

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