Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Joe Kernan: Get real, player power is here to stay

Sean Cavanagh is standing down from the GPA

The most precious asset which the GAA possesses is undoubtedly its players. The Association may boast massive stadia, lucrative sponsorship and broadcasting rights deals, the unstinting loyalty of countless thousands of followers and structures that are the envy of many other sports but ultimately the players represent its very heartbeat.

And that’s why it is so important that those participants who represent their clubs and counties week in and week out in the different codes under the GAA banner are treated properly in every respect.

The revelation that the GAA and Gaelic Players Association are now on the cusp of a firm alliance is a major step forward not only in terms of cementing a new relationship between the two bodies but in the context of bringing about even better conditions for players at all levels.

It is an open secret that in several counties players remain something akin to the poor relations. A number of county boards have been less than pro-active in addressing issues about which players feel strongly but hopefully the imminent marriage between the GPA and the GAA will ensure that uniformity prevails throughout the country in terms of player welfare.

Let’s be honest, while many people within the corridors of power continue to decry the very existence of the GPA, there is no doubt that this vibrant body has given the GAA the equivalent of a kick up the backside in alerting them to players’ misgivings and dissatisfaction.

The provision of training and playing gear, mileage rates, meals and accommodation, proper insurance cover, adequate training facilities, prompt access to top-level medical care — these are just some of the absolute necessities for county players.

Not so long ago they might have been deemed optional extras in some quarters but this is 2009 and our players deserve the best in every respect.

In return, they are expected to show loyalty, commitment and dedication to their clubs and counties.

It is not a coincidence that some of the leading officers in the Gaelic Players Association — and I’m thinking here of people like Dessie Farrell (CEO), Donal Og Cusack (Chairman) and Sean Cavanagh, who has just stood down as secretary — have all to date given outstanding service to their respective counties, thus giving a lead to their colleagues in the players’ representative body.

Players are much more intelligent, assertive and broad-minded nowadays.

And while they have every right to be treated well — after all, they are the people who consistently draw in the fans in their tens of thousands at the turnstiles — they have a duty to fulfil their role as ambassadors with dignity and decorum.

I am well aware that there has been a fractious relationship between the GAA and the GPA in recent years, although during Nicky Brennan’s presidency a more conciliatory tone appeared to be adopted.

Now the gauntlet as been thrown down to his successor Christy Cooney to go the extra mile and formally cement the relationship between two bodies that at one stage might have been viewed as being poles apart.

Player power has surfaced in more than one county of late, influencing managerial appointments and providing the dynamic for overhauling archaic practices.

It has become abundantly clear that players are not prepared to tolerate what they perceive to be unfair treatment in any area.

Indeed, they have made it plain that strike action — something that up until quite recently was deemed a no-go area within the Association — may never be far from the agenda.

While no one wants to see the tail wag the dog, players, many of whom are products of third-level education and for whom the world is their oyster, must be accorded greater credence and respect.

Failure to achieve this could have further damaging repercussions for the GAA which has remained such a gigantic sporting institution for the past 125 years.

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