GAA Football

Kicking Out: GAA must be strong in the face of GPA demands

Former Dublin footballer Paul Flynn, now CEO of the GPA, released a statement last week that gave away the players' body's real feelings of entitlement and importance. Picture by Seamus Loughran

THE worst mistake the GAA ever made was unzipping the tent and inviting the GPA inside.

Let's start with the bit of good they do. The helpline they provide for players in need of counselling is a very worthy project. Some of the support they offer to players in terms of education and business is very valuable.

If you’re a player yourself, you might think them great. Here’s an organisation whose modus operandi is to make your life easier.

The charter they fought for is available publically online. It sets out the absolute minimum requirements for county panels.

On top of their 50-cent-a-mile and meals for all activities, this includes €375 for each player to cover three pairs of boots. Then there's three training t-shirts, a wet suit, gloves on demand, a half-zip, t-shirt, tracksuit bottoms, a jacket / gilet and a kit bag, hurls and helmets, etc.

It’s as if the GAA was built just to fund O’Neills.

This column has been down this road too often before. The issue with all these entitlements is that the more county teams train, the more money it costs.

Then you have the management teams expanding at a rate of knots, with Gerry Donnelly’s famous line about his native Derry having everything bar a gynaecologist on the backroom springing to mind.

We’re now standing at a threshold of €30m spent on county teams in 2019, up almost 12 per cent from 2018.

Last week, Paul Flynn released a statement through the GPA’s website that ripped back the curtain on how they really value themselves.

The statement was ludicrous. With each passing sentence it grew worse, and its threatening tone towards the GAA and Tom Ryan grew deeper.

Flynn's message was very simple: We are the GAA now. We make it all the money. So you better give us what we want, or else.

Playing inter-county GAA is now as much a burden on young men as it is a privilege for them. There are reports full of evidence. The GPA have been involved in commissioning them.

Top of the pile is the recent ESRI study, to which Flynn refers when he references players dedicating an average of 31 hours a week to the game.

It does help bring in millions for the GAA. But it did that before the GPA too.

What exactly have they done for the inter-county game?

The games reached a zenith in terms of popularity around 15 years ago, when the GPA were in relative infancy.

The €74m revenue from last year owes a lot to more games and higher ticket prices.

Attendances were up this year because of the All-Ireland football final replay, but they’d dropped 30 per cent the previous year, which followed a long trend of decline.

The “modern form of sustainable amateurism” for players that Flynn speaks of does not exist.

Nothing exists that will make a 31-hour amateur sporting week fit in around a 40-hour working week and balanced family and social lives.

The GPA are so focussed on getting more for the players so that the 31 hours can be covered by expenses that they’re not looking at what they should be doing.

The solution is to cut the hours back.

That begins and ends with the GAA’s deal with the GPA, and within county setups themselves.

If you limit how often teams can train, then costs will shrink naturally.

The answer is to target the mileage. Put an individual cap on each county. Get the panellists’ names and addresses, calculate the cost of taking them to their training base twice a week, and set your limit. It’s not hard.

The six days a week carnage will soon stop when the well dries up.

The last time they sat around the negotiating table, the players' body convinced the GAA to hand over €6.2m a year and a chunk of commercial rights.

They are back now looking for more.

The GAA has been party in allowing the inter-county game to mushroom to unsustainable levels.

The bigger it gets, the more money it makes. The more money it makes, the stronger a case the GAA feels it has when throwing the "84 per cent is redistributed back to clubs and counties" line out.

But now that we're in a negotiation period for a new deal, all the tensions that have simmered beneath the surface have risen back up.

Make no mistake here. Ever since they signed on for €6m a year, the GPA has been very weak when it comes to actually doing their job of representing the players.

They only whispered into the debates such as the one over the tiered championship at the very last minute, coming with wishy-washy statements long after they would have had any impact on the decision.

That can only perpetuate the idea that €6.2m was simply the price of their silence.

But seeing the GAA parade record revenues to the world was an opportunity too good to miss.

The GAA has to be strong on this. Let the GPA stand outside the tent for a while, until they learn to behave.

Turn the tap off on the funding and only turn it back on once the GPA has signed up to a charter that limits the amount county setups can do.

No matter what Paul Flynn might think, the GPA is not the GAA’s ruling body.

Many of the problems we’re having now – not least the fixture issues - come from the professional standards that are being driven and encouraged by the GPA.

The GAA survived grand before the players’ body existed.

Better, it had club games at which county players not only enthralled the masses, but stepped into the changing room with the friends they'd gone to primary school and acted as equals.

They were viewed the same as everyone else, rather than as some pseudo-celebrity being that brings his bag in for the club championship.

It's unfair to blame the players themselves. They're ambitious and will do what is asked by their county setup. They see the top of the mountain and the ridiculous climb that is required to get there.

Bring the whole thing back down to earth, level it off, give players back a life. The number opting out this year – around 80 in football alone - ought to set off alarms, but the 11 per cent increase in spending suggests nobody is even considering stopping doing what they're doing.

A cap on spending is only the start. The GAA must force the demands to be cut back. If the GPA don’t want to help, it’s time to show who’s boss.

Otherwise “modern sustainable amateurism” will beat the door in, and we’ll all see it for what it really is.

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