Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Joe Kernan: Our players will have a louder voice in future

Tyrone's triple All-Ireland winner Sean Cavanagh has played a big part in the GPA.

The Gaelic Players Association has travelled a long way since it initially came into being but there are still some elements within the GAA which treat it with ongoing suspicion.

Even when the two bodies entered into a formal pact towards the end of 2009 which of course marked the start of a much closer relationship, the cynics refused to go away, suggesting that the GAA was making a grave error.

But time has shown that the GPA is if anything getting stronger. And now that the agreement document which it has entered into with the GAA has been circulated to county boards for discussion prior to being brought up again at the next meeting of Central Council, there are indications that the GPA will fulfil an even broader role in the future.

Indeed, the players body has already rolled out an expansive programme aimed at further improving player welfare which now comes under four main headings — Education, Career Development, Health and Well-Being and Benevolent Fund.

When the GAA and the GPA entered into the pact initially, the GAA set aside the sum of €1.1m to help enable the GPA to undertake its programme of activities for the first year of the agreement. It is now understood that the GPA has submitted a figure to the GAA which they would like to see accorded favourable consideration so that they can fully implement the ambitious programme they have already marked out which will span the years ahead.

Indeed, the GPA is very much thinking in the long-term here.

While there are those within the GAA who would be averse to seeing the GPA funded in such a way, many others believe that, particularly in the current economic climate, the GPA now has an even more important role to play.

One top-ranking GPA officer told me yesterday that the agreement which has been submitted to the county boards for consideration “puts flesh on the bones” of the initial pact and is seen as pointing the way ahead.

He informed me too that it is hoped to “consolidate the agreement” shortly so that the GPA can press on with its efforts to further help players in various ways — and I for one am certainly all for that.

Dessie Farrell and Sean Potts have been driving forces within the GPA while leading players who have contributed greatly to its progress are Tyrone duo Peter Canavan and Sean Cavanagh and Cork hurling goalkeeper Sean Og Cusack.

Not only has the GPA managed to obtain better conditions for county players — improved training gear, substantial meals after training, high-class overnight accommodation, first-class travel — but it is also proving to have a valuable role to play in relation to helping prepare players for job interviews and in trying to actually create work for players.

No-one needs any reminding that the spectre of emigration is hanging over us again — a stark RTE programme the other night showed the extent to which this is impacting into the very fabric of rural Ireland and indeed into our very cities and large towns.

And it’s not only the able-bodied players who are benefiting from the GPA endeavours. They have made provision for injured players and those who for whatever reason might be unable to support themselves.

To me this is a very worthy exercise — often, players careers can be cut short because of injury and they are left marooned and helpless in the short term at least. The GPA sees itself as having an important role to play in this connection and I welcome that.

Just as the GAA committed itself to paying inter-county players a nominal amount because of the sacrifices they make to serve their counties, it also has a commitment to the GPA.

Obviously the GAA coffers are not exactly groaning under the weight of money these days.

Indeed, the payments to inter-county players have been dramatically reduced and could slip off the radar altogether the way things are going. Only this week the GAA took the decision to reduce ticket prices for National League games in both football hurling. But it is a move which will serve to reduce the Association’s income.

Nonetheless, the agreement entered into between the GAA and the GPA now deserves to be put on a more solid footing and should serve as a template for the future.

In this way, I think everyone stands to benefit in some shape, form or fashion.

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