GAA Football

'When people think of the GPA, they should think of the young hurlers and footballers in their community...' Neil McManus on dispute with GAA hierarchy

"I’m the GAA, every player on our panel is the GAA, the GAA is the management and players on club juvenile and senior teams, the groundsmen, the fundraisers… the GAA is an amalgamation of everybody in the communities that we come from," says Neil McManus. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

NEIL McManus is optimistic that the stand-off between the Gaelic Players’ Association and the GAA can be brought to an end “before anything else needs to happen”.

The GPA has rejected the terms of the new deal drawn up by the GAA and inter-county players have dug their heels in by refusing to engage with media after games. To prevent a strained situation from escalating, McManus says the GAA needs to re-instate the terms of the ‘2019 Charter’ and he stressed that the GPA’s dispute is not with the GAA - it’s with the “hierarchy of the GAA”.

Cushendall clubman McManus, a member of the GPA’s National Executive Committee, says the GAA management has failed to honour it’s undertaking to restore the terms of the 2019 Charter which existed prior to the impact of the Covid pandemic. The GAA deny that and say that a new Charter was to be negotiated separately in the first quarter of 2021 and that the previous agreement would be “the basis” for the new Charter.

“When people think of the GPA, they should think of the young hurlers and footballers in their community,” said McManus.

“That’s who we are and the job of the GPA is to look after those players and this new Charter does not do that. What the GPA is asking for is for the 2019 Charter to be re-implemented as the GAA said it would be.

“And when I say ‘the GAA’ I mean the hierarchy in the Association because I’m the GAA, every player on our panel is the GAA, the GAA is the management and players on club juvenile and senior teams, the groundsmen, the fundraisers… the GAA is an amalgamation of everybody in the communities that we come from.

“That’s what the GAA should be, so whenever we say that the GAA should honour the agreement they made, we mean the management of the GAA, the people who sit at the top table.”

The 2019 Charter was shelved when the Covid pandemic swept through the country. With games going on behind closed doors, an agreement was made to reduce the expenses players received because it was acknowledged that “the revenue of the GAA was dipping”.

“People weren’t going to matches and gate receipts were way down,” said McManus.

“But we’ve seen the return of spectators and we saw the GAA making a surplus last year and they’ll make more in a full season this year.

“We need the players to be looked after. For anybody reading this, the GPA includes the students that you know in your own community and they’re the people who are being affected most. The Charter the GAA are trying to impose doesn’t protect any player who is not in the first 32 in a county squad and the majority of inter-county panels have more than 32 players on them so that’s not fair.

“There are lads going to training currently and it’s costing them money – they’re not being treated like one-to-32 on the panel and that’s unfair.”

Whether it’s an Allstar or a teenager who’s had to give up their shift in their local shop to take part in an in-house training match, the GPA argue that every players is entitled to the same conditions.

“Everybody is putting in the same effort and they should be looked after the same,” said McManus.

Another well-documented stumbling block is the GAA’s refusal to compensate players’ mileage expenses for more than four training sessions per week. On the face of it, four sessions seems more than adequate for amateur players but McManus explains that the issue is much more complex.

“The way to curb the amount of training that GAA players do is not by capping the number of sessions that mileage will be paid for,” he said.

“If an inter-county manager calls for five sessions next week, every player will be at all five – that’s how it works. The GAA are simply trying to save money and their interest in reduced numbers of sessions isn’t for player benefit at all unfortunately.

“The GAA aren’t banning sessions above four, they’re saying: ‘We’re only paying you for four’. So it doesn’t protect players.

“What the GPA is asking for is the reinstatement of the 2019 Charter which the GAA agreed to. “They’re now reneging on that, that’s what’s happening here. It was suspended for Covid but we agreed that whenever spectators could go back to watch matches the Charter would be reinstated.

“Even since 2019, we’ve seen a huge increase in the cost of living and fuel prices but the GPA is still only asking for the 2019 Charter – they’re not asking for the inflation over the last months to be taken into account.”

An inter-county hurler since 2007 and a regular for Ulster, McManus says he is optimistic that the current impasse will be sorted out “before anything else has to happen”.

“It’s very disappointing that the agreement isn’t being honoured,” he said.

“The agreement was that we would see all parts of the 2019 Charter reinstated and the GAA management has reneged on that.

“It’s quite clear that the GAA management needs to come back to the table with a willingness to honour the agreement. It’s not like they’re not in a position to honour it, they absolutely are and that’s abundantly clear – they should honour the agreement because it’s the right thing to do for our players.

“I hope we get a resolution soon. We’re already seeing players not engaging with the media after games or at GAA launches. These things are an indication of the players’ feelings but hopefully we can get this resolved before anything else has to happen.”

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