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Club stars just want a fair shake from the GAA family

By Declan Bogue

Only in the tranquil backwaters of a midweek winter day would the thoughts and musings of a county administrator become newsworthy.

In their reports to the annual county convention, some secretaries will run through an account of the season just past on the playing field, the progress of various committees, the annual plea for more referees and hopes that we can all look forward to the following year in confidence.

Going off-piste is a temptation some cannot resist. Down secretary Seán Óg McAteer decided he would give his personal thoughts on the GAA world at large at the county's December convention, specifically on the formation of the Club Players' Association (CPA).

McAteer said: "We do not need another body, the Gaelic Athletic Association is one body and one people.

"This might be one of those uncomfortable conversations that have to take place within counties to ensure that the club player gets regular games and that he knows when he is playing and that he knows the game will take place.

"That to me is achievable without the founding of another association within the association. That just needs goodwill and communication and commitment from all sides."

And he is completely right.

There should be no need for a body to represent the wishes of the oft-quoted 98 per cent of players.

But the horror stories concerning the treatment of club players are everywhere.

Like in McAteer's native Down, where the county side exited the All-Ireland Football Championship on June 25. The Down county board fixed the league final between Kilcoo - who were in Ulster Club action four days earlier against Glenswilly - against Castlewellan for November 3.

Naturally, Kilcoo pulled out, citing player welfare issues. Castlewellan were then awarded a trophy they did not want and are embarrassed about. Kilcoo are now pursuing the GAA's avenues of justice.

On that occasion, the GAA in Down lacked goodwill, communication and commitment.

It bears repeating at this point that club players are fed platitudes and patronised by the GAA. Whenever the fixtures impasse is brought up with top administrators, the automatic reflex is to respond that Congress will debate any issue, as if Central Council has never made a decision themselves.

It's not always misery. In Armagh they have a functioning fixtures board that provides football from April to October, with a two-week break for July holidays. All league action is wrapped up before the commencement of the Championship.

Yet the reality is that some clubs still do not see their county men. As Shane McConville, who went on to manage Maghery to their first-ever Championship later in the year, said last April: "There is an inner circle within most county panels.

"Experienced players are going to players and telling them, 'collectively here, we are not playing (for their clubs). Even though we know we should be playing, we are in this for the whole hog, we are not going to relent here until Armagh get as far as they can get'."

Even at that, the Armagh system is only guaranteed by the county team making an early Championship exit.

Club players are county fans too, and will put up with anything in a breakthrough season, such as the Donegal Championship of 2012 descending into a blitz.

Four Masters, the club of Karl Lacey, were required to play four Championship games in three weeks.

Lacey, who only a couple of months later would be crowned as the 2012 Player of the Year, sustained a hip injury with that heavy workload and subsequently missed the majority of the 2013 season, and the injury continues to sporadically cause him difficulty.

Dr Austin Kennedy, a former doctor of the Donegal team and Lacey's clubmate, had this to say in September 2013: "I feel I have a responsibility to speak out on the issue. I saw the devastation and the damage playing the Championship off over such a short time span had on players last season."

The solution lies with a pressure group. The CPA have goodwill and respected people in it for the right reasons, such as 1996 All-Ireland hurling winning manager Liam Griffin.

Back in 1999, Belfast played host to a meeting of inter-county players who wanted more than the status quo, which was a lack of playing equipment, players out of pocket through travelling expenses and another Championship game.

Eighteen years later, the inter-county game has swallowed the club scene whole. In most counties, an inter-county player is a stranger to his clubmates.

All they want is to be able to play, with some regularity to the fixtures calendar.

Who could argue with that?

Belfast Telegraph

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