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Paraic was key to keeping players on board

By Declan Bogue

After becoming the first Player Welfare Officer in the GAA, Paraic Duffy was well aware of the difficulties that he faced.

The Gaelic Player's Association [GPA] was growing and occasionally threatened to undermine the association, but they were able to call upon a number of injustices that did their cause no harm. Their most potent weapon was the ballot they conducted among their membership which indicated a willingness to go 'on strike.'

It was a hot potato, provoking furious reaction from Ulster in particular, with one landmark meeting in The Elk restaurant in Toomebridge late in 2007, and the formation of the 'Of One Belief' group in opposition to player payments capturing the times that were in it.

"For me, working full-time for the GAA was brilliant, it was like being on holidays all year round" he laughs as he recalls.

"The first year in the job was challenging. The GPA issue was a big one at the time and relationships between the GAA and the GPA were poor. There was a great suspicion on both sides. For me, the challenge was to build relationships. My views on players has always been that players are part of the GAA family."

His first step was to form a working relationship with Dessie Farrell, the Dublin footballer who headed up the GPA as chief executive.

"I have always found Dessie very good to deal with. He was in a tough position and I understood why people were suspicious of the GPA. Everyone had to move to resolve things. There were issues such as pay-for-play, issues that the GAA could never buy.

"My feeling was that there was a lot of ground in between there. The question I was asking was if there was a way for both of us to move our positions.

"You have to find the middle ground in every way."

There is a crude metaphor for what the GAA did next. Instead of having them 'outside the tent p******g in', they elected to have them 'inside the tent p******g out.'

That involved making a annual financial pledge to the GPA for player welfare initiatives, a scheme that was unveiled at the 2010 annual congress. The pay-off was that the GPA's constitution recognised the GAA's amateur status in their constitution, and would not compete in the marketplace for individual sponsorship.

It was the first instance of Duffy's great pragmatism, although he plays it down, "The GAA is not an organisation where you can say, 'I won't move from there', because the vast majority of people in the GAA feel very strongly about, feel very passionately about it, but by and large, there is a large respect for the person there at all times. You have to be prepared to move – not to bend – but to move."

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