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GAA players fearful more cuts are on the way

By John Campbell

Ulster's inter-county footballers and hurlers are keeping their fingers crossed that the grants packages which were activated two years ago will remain in place for 2011.

It was following strong lobbying by the Gaelic Players’ Association that the GAA agreed to a scale of payments for county players depending on the progress their teams made in their respective championship campaigns.

But after just one year the payments were cut because of the deteriorating economic situation and there are now fears in some quarters that they could be scrapped altogether.

Two years ago, an All Ireland medal winner would have been entitled to receive €2,400 per annum but this figure has now been trimmed to €800, while many players whose teams exit championship in the early stages can now receive as little as €400.

Even though crowds at Ulster championship matches have been “in line with expectations” this year according to provincial secretary Danny Murphy, the growing concerns about the country’s fiscal position means that monies earmarked for sporting, cultural and other areas may be directed elsewhere.

On Saturday week last the Republic’s Minister for Sport and Tourism Mary Hanafin addressed the 500-strong attendance at the Ulster Club Volunteer Conference in the Armagh City Hotel when she praised the work being done at grassroots level by the GAA.

Yet she could be the person at government level who may be forced to wield the axe on the players’ payments if there is not an improvement in the overall economic situation.

While the Gaelic Players’ Association had at one stage contemplated withdrawing the services of county players when they were encountering opposition while lobbying for the payments to be introduced, it is unlikely that such a course would be pursued now given that the GPA and the GAA are bedfellows.

The GPA has already submitted its grant requirements for grant payments to the Republic’s government but given that a particularly stiff budget is in the offing, hopes are not high that their request will meet with success.

Indeed, given the current precarious state of the economy, the county players may well have to be content with the crumbs that fall from the government’s table.

One prominent Ulster player, though, perhaps put things in context when he said: “Obviously there would be extreme disappointment if the grants were reduced to a minimum or even shelved but with people losing their jobs and others taking big wage cuts there is not a lot we can do about it, I suppose. Like the rest of the country we may just keep our fingers crossed and hope that there will be an upturn in the economy.”

In recessionary times Donegal seem to be affected more than most other counties and county manager Jimmy McGuinness will be hoping for a change of fortune in that regard.

And yet who else but Donegal champions Glenties find themselves in Sunday week’s AIB Ulster club champion decider against Crossmaglen Rangers?

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