GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: New GPA deal further damages club ethos

The motorway out of Dublin is a familiar sight to many Gaels going training for their clubs and counties on week nights 
Cahair OKane

EARLIER this summer, in an interview with this newspaper, Tomás Corrigan revealed his weekly schedule.

The Fermanagh forward had finished his studies to become a solicitor and moved to Dublin last January to take up a trainee post with the Arthur Cox firm.

He transferred clubs from his native Kinawley to Oliver Plunkett Eoghan Ruadh in the capital, describing that switch in another interview as the “toughest decision I have had to make”.

To report for county duty, he gets in the car every Tuesday and Friday. In order to make it to Lissan in time, he finishes early those days.

That means either a very early start or heading back into the office to make up the time once he gets back to Dublin. He does his own gym work, saving him the excursion for that.

“Those long drives are a lot easier when the weather is good, the evenings are longer and when you’re winning games... At the minute, the drives are a lot more enjoyable than on those long, dark, wet nights in January and February,” he said back in June, just before his side’s Ulster Championship defeat by Donegal.

That level of commitment is extraordinary. For the many inter-county players now based in Dublin, it is a similar tale of lonely drives up and down the motorways of Ireland.

Like every county player, the GPA’s old deal with the GAA covered them for expenses, up to a certain point.

Last week, a new €6.2m-a-year deal was announced, far outstripping the old one.

Over the three years of the new deal, €4.5m will be paid out to players to cover their mileage, at an increased rate of 65c per mile, or 54p in the North.

A further €3.6m will be given to county players for vouched nutritional expenses. Eating right is a huge part of the modern game.

As any fitness trainer will tell you, you can go to the gym every day for an entire year but, if you’re putting the wrong fuel in the tank, you’ll never make it to where you want to go.

A lot of what county players eat now is organic food. The reason for that is that it’s so clean. And because it’s so clean, it’s very expensive.

There will be no fleecing this system. What players are claiming back will all be legitimate expenditure. It’s likely that some will still be out of pocket at the end of it.

But Fearghal McVey is a young man playing football for Loup, on the fringes of Lough Neagh.

He’s also a solicitor based in Dublin. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he gets in his car after work. He makes the lonely drive up the M1 for training.

He either leaves for Dublin again straight after, arriving around midnight, or he sets off very early the next morning.

At the end of the year, the Loup might have the John McLaughlin Cup back for the first time in seven years. They might not.

But whatever happens, come November, there will be no cheque landing on Fearghal McVey’s doormat.

Nobody is going to reimburse him for the winter nights spent in the car, stopping at the AppleGreen to pour another €50 into his fuel tank.

That’s not Tomás Corrigan’s fault. You couldn’t blame county players for welcoming the new deal. Nobody is going to get rich off it. It’s a financial relief for players more than it is a reward.

It’s not the fault of the players. Most have little or no say on how the GPA does its business, barring answering an odd survey here and there.

But to give you another example, last June, a round of Derry club fixtures was postponed because the county team were preparing for an Ulster semi-final against Donegal.

There was widespread consternation. County players wanted to play for their clubs. Clubs didn’t want to play without their county players.

Clubs were told on the Thursday evening they could postpone their game if they so wished. They were told on the Friday they couldn’t.

Saturday came and, eventually, in the early evening, it was decided they would be allowed to put their games off. In the meantime, players waited.

There was an actual tangible cost for some. One club player I spoke to at the time booked flights home for their game, only for it then to be postponed at the last minute.

The flights had to be cancelled and rebooked for the following weekend, when his club’s game would eventually take place.

It cost him £250 by the end of it. I don’t know if he was ever reimbursed - knowing him, I doubt it very much. But if he had been, the money would have been at the expense of his club.

That money has to come from somewhere. Chances are it would have come from his neighbours, purchasing weekly lotto tickets or paying into direct debits.

My good neighbours Drumsurn had a particular problem for a couple of years in that 75 per cent of their senior team were working in either England or Scotland.

To a man, they flew home on a Friday and back over on a Sunday at their own expense.

They often lost a day’s pay, if not two. A delayed flight back on the Sunday evening could turn it into a very short and expensive week.

The fact they couldn’t train together as a unit harmed them greatly. A top-end intermediate side on their good days, it threatened to relegate them for a while.

But their commitment could never be questioned. And they never looked for anything in return.

Drumsurn has no major industry, no big business to bankroll the club and help the players out. Just neighbours buying lotto tickets.

“Clubs are the bedrock of the association”. We hear it so often. And we all get so giddy knowing it means Croke Park is about to step in and help with the £7,000 we have to find to pay our fees every January.

Except they don’t. They never do. It’s not just the club player who is neglected, but the club itself.

The club is indeed the bedrock - buried beneath layers, asked to bear so much weight with no oxygen getting to it.

The elitism the GPA has fostered is tearing club football and hurling to pieces. It’s an accepted norm that county players simply do not play for their clubs any more.

This new deal widens the chasm further. In its small print, the GPA has been given more power at congress.

They will surely use it to continue down the path of trying to force a round-robin All-Ireland Football Championship - meaning a huge increase in the number of Championship games - upon us.

And in three years’ time, when this €18.6m has been digested and the GPA is bigger and stronger still, who knows what kind of a headlock they’ll put the GAA in?

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