Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Joe Kernan: No wages, but players should enjoy a bonus

Kevin McKernan missed a trip to New York with Down because of his club championship commitments with Burren but has spent the past week with the All Stars in Kuala Lumpur

We are, hopefully, still a long way from professionalism in the GAA. And by that I specifically mean players actually being paid on a weekly or monthly basis for representing their counties - the very notion of professionalism as we know it at club level is of course utterly ludicrous.

It is perhaps pertinent too to stress that when people refer to the possible introduction of ‘professionalism’ they are actually alluding to a form of elitism — let’s call a spade a spade here, shall we?

What is being mulled over in any debate in which ‘pay for play’ is the topic is the possibility of our top-flight inter-county players being financially rewarded on an ongoing basis for representing their counties from the opening day of the season until their teams exit the All Ireland football or hurling championships. That’s it in a nutshell.

In what is perhaps the most professional amateur sporting organisation in the world in many respects, the GAA will continue to resist the implementation of any mechanism whereby players are to be paid wages per se.

This of course is very much distinct from the current tenuous grants system which appears to have become increasingly vulnerable owing to the horrific fiscal scenario that pertains in the Republic in particular and which merely facilitates an annual token payment in euros — a payment which has been described as ‘derisory’ by more than one source.

The grants concept may have been introduced against a backdrop of optimism and enthusiasm but we are certainly living in changed times now — indeed, seldom have GAA clubs found the financial waters so turbulent in terms of fund-raising.

Given that inter-county players — and I say this with all due respect to club players throughout the country — are likely to be denied the opportunity to gain financially from their endeavours on the park, the GAA in tandem with the Gaelic Players Association has stepped up its efforts considerably to look after the welfare of its players.

And in this respect the annual All Stars trip is still viewed as a considerable bonus by those fortunate enough to be selected for the travelling teams.

Just look at some of the exotic destinations to which the All Stars teams have travelled in recent years – San Diego, Vancouver, Hong Kong and right now Kuala Lumpur.

Cork boss Conor Counihan and his Down counterpart James McCartan have been there for the past week taking charge of the 2010 and 2009 All Stars teams respectively in from what I can gather proved a hugely successful safari in terms of spreading the GAA gospel.

The only unfortunate aspect from my perspective is that several players who were initially selected were unable to go on the trip because their clubs were involved in championship matches or because of studies or work commitments.

And that is a great pity. For I firmly believe that, while having no desire to see pay for play introduced, players should be afforded as many perks as possible.

It disturbs me greatly to learn that some county boards are still dragging their feet in relation to looking after the welfare of their players.

GAA President Christy Cooney has said more than once lately that the players are the most valuable commodity which the GAA possesses. They should be cherished, I believe.

Of course we will always have the begrudgers, those who would decry any efforts made to look after players. Why shouldn’t they get fulsome meals, top-class hotel accommodation, a full range of training and casual gear?

Their appeal on the park ensures that they keep replenishing the GAA coffers — without them there would be no GAA!

They are well entitled to what some perceive as ‘perks’ but what I view as essential requirements.

Four Down players — Kevin McKernan, Daniel McCartan, Declan Rooney and Anto McArdle — were forced to miss an attractive week-long trip to New York with James McCartan’s squad because their club Burren was still engaged in the Ulster Club Championship.

For the players it was a no brainer — their club came first. That shows the level of their commitment.

I for one will enthusiastically endorse any moves that are designed to improve the players’ lot and thereby perhaps further enhance the entertainment value they will continue to provide.

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