John McEntee: Club Players' Association must truly consider putting club players first
JUST over two months have passed since the official launch of the Club Players’ Association (CPA) yet it seems as though they have been in existence for years.
Minimal GAA activity during the winter months and effective use of social media has catapulted those three letters into drunken pub talk, family meal time discussions, and onto almost every sports programme’s agenda.
Full credit to them in this regard. The CPA is a volunteer association that was established to help resolve the GAA fixtures crisis. Its cause is admirable, but is it realistic or entirely relevant?
The GAA as an association is slow to change; abolishment of Rule 21 and opening its facilities to other sports required years of head scratching and ‘what ifs?’
Denial of the CPA to speak at Congress recently is a case in point. By the way, each of those decisions was the right decision.
And how representative of the grassroots club player is the CPA? Elitism is not exclusive to the county player. Many clubs have two senior teams; a Dublin club could have multiple senior teams. The range of abilities and aspirations is mind-boggling, as is the variation in commitment.
One guy wants to train every night, win every match, and put himself in contention for a county call-up. Another uses training as a social outlet, a bit of craic.
Both are equally valid reasons for participation. While managing club teams, the main issues I faced were gaining access to county players, accommodating young men who wanted to spend their summers in New York or Boston, and preventing player over-exertion as a result of serving multiple masters: club, county, and college or university. Let me briefly examine each one separately.
Traditionally, a player was a club player first and county player secondly. The club released players for county duty with a heart-and-a-half, having spent many hours honing their physical skills and mental resilience.
The creation of county development squads, the reprogramming of the mind, the powerlessness of clubs against county diktats has turned tradition on its head.
Our talented youngsters describe themselves as ‘county players’ and pledge allegiance to county first. Those who don’t, succumb to peer pressure or other forms of manipulation.
The growth of the professionalism concept does not help the cause of clubs. The warmth and bustle of New York attracts many young Irish men each summer. The lure of playing football and being rewarded either with some form of expense or the promise of employment is another strong pull.
Two years ago there were upwards of 13 players from my own club who sought a transfer to an American club, with five of them being involved with the senior team.
Lack of access to county players coupled with emigration and a handful of injuries meant that
Oisin McConville (below, right) or myself genuinely contemplated togging out for a number of league games – perish the thought!
The impact on training intensity and on team morale is obvious, but what did these lads actually miss in terms of games?
Maybe if the CPA recognised the change in young people’s interests and desires to travel widely and explore other parts of the world and seek to organise the club calendar to reflect these lifestyle choices, there would be fewer disharmonies with returning players.
Is it not the case that the club is the journeyman’s club as much as it is the homebird’s club? In the 15/16 years that I played senior club football I maybe had one summer holiday of note.
This general point, like the first one I make, is about putting the players first rather than the club championship; perhaps this is a principle on which the CPA may want to provide further clarity.
Another aspect I would encourage the CPA to focus its energies on is the issue of the club player serving many masters.
The player is asked to commit to their club, their college or university and, in some cases, their county.
It is the player who is asked to make the decision as to who he will serve and when. This is unfair.
The club player is equally prone to over-exertion and being injury-prone. I’d like the CPA to research how other sporting organisations manage this dilemma.
I’d like to see a balance to the club players’ activities so that playing for your club is truly enjoyable. It should be of their own choice, there should be a partnership approach to the welfare of the players so they train less and play more and, as players come and go, they should be wished well and welcomed back in equal measure.
The CPA is a fledgling body. They want change to happen within 100 days. Congress’s decision to press the ‘mute’ button may have sucked the optimism out of that aspiration, but they have lots of work to do.
Six weeks is plenty of time to generate an issues list, propose solutions and to form a broader reason for existence.
Highlighting a fixtures crisis and targeting ever-growing registrations does not guarantee longevity or relevance.