Any negotiations made by unions on behalf of employees will always boil down to the following: time spent working against money paid. Conditions and fringe benefits are all nice and pleasant, but it’s essentially fluffy stuff after asking: “What’s my bottom line, and how long does that take me?”
The GAA and its players have a unique relationship. Gaelic Games are amateur sports and yet they still pay a private limited company in the Gaelic Players’ Association to look after player welfare. As long as the GAA pay the GPA, it is kept in existence.
Right now, both bodies are in a difference of opinion over ‘working conditions’, if you want to be bolshy about it.
The GAA being amateur, it cannot give pay outside of vouched expenses. So therefore, what can the GPA ask for? Less time spent at the coalface?
The answer is an emphatic, puzzling and baffling no.
Instead, they are negotiating in favour of all the kind of things which show up in ESRI Reports and studies into burnout.
Take a look at the latest demands. They are seeking more and more and more time spent training, more miles in the car travelling to and from sessions, and more collective meetings when you can feel your very soul seeping out of your body.
On the ‘League Sunday’ show, GPA CEO Tom Parsons actually said of the playing body: “They want to receive their eligible expenses for all sessions. If they are asked to train two times or seven times a week, all players want to be treated fairly and equally.
“If players are asked to train twice, 10 times at 65 cents, that’s the rate. That’s all players are asking for. I am hoping that it is resolved this week.”
Seven times a week? Training 10 times a week? Sorry Tom, but do you not think that would be a good time for, I don’t know, a union of some kind to stop that madness?
To highlight their demands, the GPA engaged in some industrial action, encouraging all their members to boycott post-match interviews last weekend.
Right now, the GAA are willing to pay expenses for training four times a week. Four nights out of seven. So if you have a match on a Sunday, you can rest up on Monday. Pitch session on a Tuesday. Collective weights or cardiovascular exercise on a Wednesday. Pitch session on a Thursday.
After three consecutive sessions, a Friday spent resting would be ideal before a game on a Saturday or Sunday.
The GPA are lobbying for more than that. Any sensible athletes’ union should be lobbying for fewer nights out of the house, less time sitting in cars traversing the island to get to often remote locations, folding yourself out of the seat and then partaking in a gutting session, before packing yourself and your tight hamstrings into your mother’s old Clio.
It’s one thing doing that, it’s another to have it consume your life and swallow you whole. The kind of dedication it now takes to be an inter-county player leaves no room for anything else.
It’s not enough to blow raspberries at the GPA. Some of the most passionate members of the GAA, such as Ronan Sheehan, Neil McManus and Niall Morgan, have anyone’s respect.
You just sense, though, that in spoiling for a fight, they are experiencing a snow-blindness. That mileage is the never-ending war and they are destined to go over the top.
There’s a startling lack of imagination, especially when you consider the results of their own Student Report survey, conducted in 2019. Among the findings were that 62% found it difficult to manage all the commitments associated with being a student athlete.
65% felt their training load negatively impacted their academic performance.
70% were travelling home for training three or more times per week.
73% would have liked to spend more time with family and friends.
And it occurs to us that even in their student days, county players are becoming invisible within their own communities.
Training six or seven or 10 times a week hardly helps. The GPA needs to focus on what its members are telling it.