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GPA vote leaves GAA at crossroads

Sean Rice
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HOW TO GET AHEAD  Islandeady’s Willie McDonnell uses his head as Garrymore’s Tony Corcoran arrives at speed during Sunday’s Welcome Inn League Division 2 final at McHale Park. Pic: David Turner

GPA vote leaves GAA at crossroads


Sean RiceSean Rice
THE word strike has taken on a new meaning in the lexicon of Gaelic games. The decision by members of the GPA to refuse to play for their counties next season unless the government coughs up the promised €5 million grant has drawn them closer to ugly conflict not only with the GAA, but perhaps with the bulk of supporters who hand out their hard-earned cash to watch them perform, good or bad, week in, week out.
To imagine our elite footballers picketing Gaelic stadia, carrying placards that read of neglect and lack of appreciation for the effort they put in on behalf of their counties would be laughable if it were not shrouded in more sinister motives.
Undertones of its leaning towards professionalism have deterred the GAA authorities from becoming involved in the distribution of the grant, and so far discussions with the government have failed to produce agreement for its dispersal. Whatever settlement is finally reached, it cannot cloak the fact that this is the first serious step by players in pursuit of pay for play. It is in essence incipient professionalism.
When the chief executive caused a national furore in the early months of the GPA’s life with a poorly disguised declaration that professionalism was the ultimate aim of his organisation, Dessie Farrell was forced to moderate his objectives. But he did not expunge them, nor lose sight of what many claim is the real purpose of his organisation.
It has to be conceded that players’ welfare has received much greater attention since the GPA was formed. Nobody wishes Gaelic players to be out of pocket. In a television programme last weekend Mick O’Dwyer claimed that he never got paid for his managerial exploits other than what he received in expenses. That, too, should be the law for players . . . and the 50c a mile, of which the Kerryman spoke, is indeed niggardly mileage payment in the present economic climate.
The government grant on which the GPA are eager to get their hands is, however, direct payment for player performances. In whatever way it is couched, however it is distributed, it is a breach of the amateur ethos of the GAA.
It was no surprise that the members voted overwhelmingly for strike action. Anyone would jump at the chance of a slice of the cake. The proposed €2,800 for each player who reaches the All-Ireland final is persuasive. But it appears also to mean more than the honour or esteem or privilege, accorded by the occasion.
The implications for the thousands of players who will never reach senior inter-county standard and for the GAA as a whole are ominous. Loyalty and volunteerism are at serious risk. Love for the game and its values will be undermined. The GAA is undoubtedly at a crossroads.
One player who has expressed his doubts about the value of strike action is Fermanagh’s Colm Bradley. Grant aid, he claims, is the first step on the slippery slope.
“I don’t want €2,800 in grant aid to buy gym equipment or pay the insurance on my car. I don’t think I’m entitled to that. When I joined, the county player was treated disgracefully. The gear was sub-standard. There were no hot meals after training. The mileage rate was poor.
“But the GPA changed that. Players should have access to the best medical facilities and good gear.
“Given the distances they travel, they should have a good mileage rate. But I don’t see why I deserve €2,800 to play a game I love when I know some players will abuse it. If you begin on this road there’ll be no end to it. ”So, when the government grant is divided, and the players have their first taste of pay for play, what next for the GPA? The answer is clear: More


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