Pre-season competitions could be for “developing squad players” only suggest GPA

A key focus of the organisation is to address the concerning load being placed on inter-county players

GPA CEO Tom Parsons. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)
GPA CEO Tom Parsons. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

JANUARY’S McKenna Cup competition could be watered right down to cater for just new and rookie players if a Gaelic Players Association suggestion comes to fruition.

Speaking at the launch of the GPA’s annual report for 2023, CEO Tom Parsons returned to ‘hammering the drum’ for the pre-season competitions to be scrapped entirely, to allow for meaningful preparation time for the National League.

He said it isn’t out of the question that this change could come as soon as next winter, meaning counties wouldn’t have to break official return-to-training guidelines in order to be fit for competitive January matches.

A key focus of the GPA’s is to address the concerning load being placed on inter-county players with stats highlighting how injuries are on the up and break time is being increasingly squeezed out.

Parsons said that any efforts to stretch the current inter-county window, an eight-month period from December to July, will be opposed and he said they’d ideally like to free up more time for breaks and pre-season training within that eight months.

“It was brought up at Central Council again,” said Parsons, referring to the issue of next January’s pre-season competitions. “A delegate from one county backed up the proposal to pause the pre-season competitions and we are taking a vote on competition loads in September.

“So look, it’s not off the cards this year with the right mechanisms to impose change. Something that is within our remit is to mandate that our members, that players who have been on panels for two years, don’t engage pre-season competitions, and that they serve a purpose for developing squad players.”

Morgan said that while Tyrone teams have typically fought hard to win the McKenna Cup, he can see how competitive activity in January prompts teams to break return-to-training guidelines in order to be match fit.

“You’re still going to play friendly games,” said Morgan of January. “But they just won’t feel as important, you currently have teams feeling the need to make sure that everyone knows that Tyrone are ready to compete with Donegal this year, or Armagh or Derry, or having the likes of Cavan coming out feeling that this McKenna Cup is a chance to lay down a marker that they’re ready to play against everyone else.”

Other areas of concern for the GPA include the money being spent on stadium upgrades, the welfare of female players and the GPA not being fully recognised by the LGFA and Camogie Association.

But fighting any efforts to push the inter-county season back into August, or beyond, and delivering a longer break between the league and Championship competitions, appears to be the GPA’s principal focus.

The only change the GPA appears to be open to regarding the eight-month window is possibly moving it in the calendar, potentially using the January to August period instead.

“We don’t have a set position that it needs to be December to July,” said Parsons.

“That’s something that can be consulted with players but I would anticipate that as long as players are getting those break periods, that meaningful time with their clubs, that break period between county and club, then if that eight-month period shifted (in the calendar) it is something we would absolutely consult with players.

“If that was designed to protect player welfare, and players were guaranteed certain rest periods, I’d be confident that could be something the GPA, I think, would get behind.”

GPA finance chief Ciaran Barr highlighted at the launch how the GAA’s net commercial revenue dropped in 2023, compared to 2022. The GPA receives 15% of that commercial revenue so, as a result, GPA funding was down. With this in mind, a focus fell on how the GAA is currently distributing its own funding.

“Look, if commercial revenues are down, the GAA is going to have to look at what their priority points are in how the revenue is used,” said Parsons. “My personal feeling is that the investments in professional stadiums around Ireland - is that a good investment for an amateur sport? All the stadiums, the Croke Parks, the Pairc Ui Chaoimhs, the new Casement Park, are they reflective of an amateur organisation?”