CPA vow to pile pressure on the GAA over fixtures
This weekend, 57 club Championship games are staged across Ulster. From the glamour fixtures of Loughgiel Shamrocks against Ruairi Óg Cushendall, to Junior fixtures dotted around the province, the impression is one of rude health - a vision not shared by Secretary of the Club Players Association, Declan Brennan.
The CPA have issued a one-question survey to their membership and thousands have replied to the question, 'Are you in favour of club players holding a protest at the GAA's Special Congress?' taking place on September 30.
Brennan is blunt in his assessment of the way the GAA have handled the CPA since their formation in January and their unwillingness to engage with them, in order to achieve their principal goal of 'fixing the fixtures'.
"The way I see our Association at the minute, it's a bit like having a brand-new Mercedes outside your house and nothing in the fridge to eat," states Brennan.
"We are flagging that everything is going so well, but it's not. It's definitely not. There is a divide coming. It's going to get bigger and bigger and there is going to be more and more non-events as in games but at the same time families are paying €35 a pop to go to games in Croke Park."
It can reasonably be said that the difficulties the GAA faces regarding club fixtures have always been there. However, changes and developments in communications means more voices are heard giving their views on the debate.
Brennan emphasises his concern is rooted in player welfare, that his and his colleagues' actions are motivated by the testimony of players that have been in touch with the CPA with their valid complaints.
"There is no off-season," Brennan says.
"The club players are playing game after game. Even here in Monaghan there was a period where there were games Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday and then a Championship game the following week."
The CPA are fighting for recognition at official level. Despite making their case for such status at GAA Congress, they made no headway. Some seasoned county board officials actually used speaking privileges to lambast their efforts.
Since then, there has been significant back-channelling from the GAA towards the players body. However, the alacrity with which a Special Congress had been called in order to restructure the hurling championships, in contrast to the inertia over grasping the nettle on fixtures, has Brennan frustrated to the point where he says: "Being straight up, we as an executive are not confident that the people involved in our Association are fit for purpose at the moment."
Their frustrations are compounded by a breakdown in communication between those that play the game and those that administer. While Brennan assures us that the CPA are inundated with emails and Facebook messages from vexed players, they hold that these irritations are not being communicated to club reps.
"We want to escalate it as well because of the way it is going, and what can be done. From our last survey, 95% of our members wanted us to escalate what we were doing, put more pressure on to get something done. That's what we are doing and we are consulting with them to plan our way forward," says Brennan.
"We feel this Special Congress, from a club perspective is a non-event. It goes way short and it's actually pathetic to the point that there is nothing done."
Horror stories abound everywhere. Only last week, two championship fixtures in Tyrone - Derrylaughan against Castlederg and Omagh against Ardboe - had been fixed for the day of the All-Ireland football final.
After the CPA highlighted this case, the county board fixtures committee moved the games forward by 24 hours. As minor as this might have been, there is huge significance in that the CPA could have indirectly affected change.
In Armagh, championship games have been played on Monday nights. Another championship game between Crossmaglen and Maghery threw-in at 9pm on a Friday night.
Over the last few months, the CPA have been busily curating dozens of accounts - confessions of Gaelic athletes if you like - detailing their struggles against fixture-makers, the inability to book foreign holidays or trips away, all because of the tendency of fixtures to change in an instant.
"There are 66 stories in from about 10 days ago that are going up on our website over the next week, stories of discontent, things going on within clubs and counties. You want to see them, they are unbelievable," states Brennan.
A recent meeting with some top-ranking officials left them feeling their work in addressing player concerns is unappreciated. Publishing the letters and emails of players is one way to display their evidence, that they claim the GAA has challenged them to show.
Brennan adds: "The people involved are completely disconnected. There's one of your top officials saying to us that there is no discontent and asking us for our evidence. That's what you are up against."
In the meantime, the work goes on.
At the Kilmacud Seven-a-side tournament, a favourite venue for fans seeking to snap up a last-minute ticket for the following day's All-Ireland final, the CPA have been granted permission to set up a stand. Should anyone wish to ask them a direct question, they are encouraged to come and have a conversation.
"The work is being put in," adds Brennan. "Are we making progress? We are definitely putting the pressure on and we will keep the pressure on."