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GAA on the road to ruin

Sean Rice
111207-rice-pic
IN THE EYES OF THE STORM GPA Chief Executive Dessie Farrell has plenty to ponder after the events of the past seven days. Pic: Sportsfile

GAA on the road to ruin

Sean RiceSean Rice
ANYBODY sitting in at the Mayo GAA Board meeting last Thursday night would be under no illusion about the anger of delegates at what they perceive — and which no amount of spinning can conceal — is the senior inter-county players’ pay-for-play agreement drawn up by the government and the GPA, with the consent of the GAA.
Unfortunately, this eruption of fury, which had been festering among genuine Gaelic games followers for weeks, may have come too late to prevent cracks appearing in the solidarity of an organisation that has withstood all sorts of outside opposition down the decades, but may not be invulnerable to an implosion caused from within.
The arguments have not been helped by the ill-judged comments of the chief executive of the GPA, Dessie Farrell, who described genuine objectors in Ulster as a small rump of malcontents, nor by at least one GAA writer in a national newspaper who questions the right of the general body of the GAA to express their views on an agreement that erodes one of the core values of an organisation they have served all their lives.
In a penetrating newspaper article last week, Mark Conway of Tyrone described the agreement as the first irrevocable step on the road to the destruction of the association. Portraying the difference between professional sports and Gaelic games, Conway asks: How come that despite the mind-boggling financial power of the professional sports, none of them even attempts to deliver what the GAA does?
“The reason stares us in the face. It’s the one key difference between them and us – they pay and we don’t. Money corrupts, distracts, shifts the focus, demolishes ‘place’, attacks the value system, fosters greed, replaces ‘we’ with ‘me.’ Once you pay people to play sport, then whatever else you’ve got, it isn’t sport.”
If opposition to the grants, so vociferously raised by GAA people in Ulster and Mayo, had come a few weeks earlier it might have awakened other counties to the snare of pay-for-play into which they were being led with the explicit support of GAA administrators in Croke Park.
The stereotyped response from the Mayo players, that the unanimous decision of Mayo GAA Board was hasty and that all they asked was to be afforded due respect and recognition under the proposed scheme, might have been more convincing if it emanated directly from them instead of the pen of Farrell, whose express objective shortly after the formation of his association was the pursuit of pay-for-play for senior footballers.
Volunteerism is likely to be the first casualty of pay-for-play. Mark Conway quotes a recent ESRI report revealing that 43 per cent of all volunteering in Ireland is delivered by the GAA. That figure may already be under pressure in the wake of pay-for-play events.
In his report to the annual convention of Mayo GAA Board, outgoing Bord na nÓg secretary, Sean MacEil, writes that a certain apathy had been creeping into Mayo Board meetings of late. “Thirty clubs were absent from the last County Board meeting when the question of player burn-out and the proposal of a new U-19 competition to replace minor and U-21 was up for discussion. That level of apathy is not good for our association,” he wrote. The grants issue may serve only to deepen that indifference.
The President of the GAA, Nickey Brennan, claimed that the furore in Ulster and Mayo had had some effect in that the responsibility for distribution of the funds would not now rest with the counties. The responsibility was being transferred to a new group to be set up by the Central Council in the coming weeks.
That ‘concession’, made at a meeting of the Council on Saturday, did nothing to appease the concern of those against the agreement - if anything, it copperfastened it. Its existence might have been shortlived if counties refused to handle the scheme. Instead, the Central Council has erected a milestone on the road to eventual ruin.

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