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Player welfare is the GPA's focus, says Dessie Farrell

By Declan Bogue

Dessie Farrell, the Chief Executive of the Gaelic Player's Association, has refuted a series of accusations aimed at the body by former Dublin Performance Director Fergus Connolly.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Connolly raised the issue of the amount of injuries incurred in training, questioning the work of the GPA. He stated: "It's easy for the GPA to talk about things like depression. Nobody is going to disagree with them. There are far bigger issues that they need to be addressing.

"For example, Donegal's former physio admitted that one year recently, approximately three quarters of their injuries came in training, not matches.

"If a player's association isn't concerned with this what is it's real role? This is reported factual information that a group who really had player welfare in mind could actually do something with."

Farrell has disputed Connolly's comments, pointing to last weekend's changes at Congress - with the Under-21 level re-graded as Under-20 - as an example of a decision taken for the good of young players after a body of research by the GPA and subsequent recommendations to the GAA.

"The fact that Fergus has been away, he may not be familiar with the work we have been carrying out," Farrell began.

"For example, last year we completed a fairly comprehensive study and piece of research into the challenges that third-level students who are county players actually encounter. They were under three different headings; one was 'Welfare', another was 'Academic' and the final one was 'Financial'.

"We delved into what the issues were, identified the problems and came up with a comprehensive proposal in relation to solutions as well.

"We submitted that research and report to the GAA and as recently as Congress at the weekend, one of the recommendations in our report was that the Under-21 grade would move down to an Under-20. That will help alleviate some of the problems in this area.

"Now, we have a whole host of other recommendations as well, but that was one of the major ones and I think that has to be welcomed. That important step has been taken.

"That's just an example of some of the work we have been doing and how we are able to influence decisions in a certain way."

The head of the player's body also stated that the significant work they carry out in the field of player care is in addition to player welfare, which involves counselling and dealing with personal issues.

"These are just some of the examples of the work we have been doing in the area of player burnout, which indeed is separate from the area of player welfare, which ensures players reach their potential off the field of play and are supported in vital areas off the field of play," he explained.

"Fergus alludes to it, but seems to be somewhat dismissive of it. That's unfortunate, because we do support players who are affected in those ways."

Farrell also drew attention to how the GPA's proposed changes to the structure of the All-Ireland football Championship - which was subsequently mothballed by Central Council - had built-in rest periods for players.

He explained: "In those proposals we outlined provision for the welfare of the player, condensing the season and having rest and recovery weekends stipulated within an overall programme.

"(It is) another example where we have been pro-active after extensive consultation and engagement with players who are at the coalface and understand these matters better than anybody.

"On an ongoing basis, we have a seat on the Medical and Scientific Welfare Committee, which is populated with various different experts in relation to welfare and medical matters and people who have a huge interest in and are passionate about the GAA.

"For the last number of years we have sat on that particular group and have been able to input the views of various players in relation to a whole host of important issues such as anti-doping, concussion, burnout, whatever it may be.

"The work of that particular group and committee has been praised at the highest levels within the GAA itself for the nature of it and how vital it is to player welfare.

"Another example would be the minor review group. We were in a position to facilitate focus groups of players who were county players who came out of the minor age group and had strong views on the direction that any changes to the competition should take at that level."

In recent months, the GPA have been involved in research into medical matters and are due to release a report in the coming months into the prevalence of cruciate ligament injuries.

It was that area that Connolly raised concerns over, claiming that he has been approached by parents of young players coming out of under-age level requiring hip and groin operations.

Farrell added: "It is a significant piece of research in that area of groin and hip pain. It seems to be an epidemic at GAA inter-county senior level."

Belfast Telegraph

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