Over the years sport has changed dramatically. Some might say for the better and others might suggest not so much. Sky has turned sport into huge business and those who are slow to accept the changes are left behind whether they like it or not.
The GAA is no different. Since the new Croke Park was developed Corporate GAA has taken over. They have some huge sponsorship deals done with the biggest firms in the country and are getting stronger. Their business model has proved over the years to be on the ball with monies coming in by the bucket loads. Their steady profit margins year after year have allowed them to build up many stadiums around the country and put coaching infrastructures in place that is the envy of the IRFU and the FAI.
They have been able to do this because it costs them nothing to run their games. Well when I mean nothing, I mean the players, the lads that fill the very same stadiums; the lads that commit maybe eight to ten years of their young lives to their county for the love of the game and do so without payment.
Now for years people have been extremely critical of the players’ body. A lot of spin was put on what exactly they were set up to do and what exactly they did, but the question that very few, if any, asked is why they had to be set up in the first place? Why did players need somebody to represent them? Well maybe the reason was that nobody or very few were looking after them in the first place.
Even when the GPA was established the GAA felt it would last only a short time. They did nothing and worse still they went as far as setting up their own players’ body but as the GPA gathered strength against all the odds and considerable snipping, the GAA players’ body died a death and the reality was that the players wanted their voices heard.
For too many years they were expected to be seen and not heard and were certainly never going to be given any say in the running of the organisation, if they were not going to be able to read from script.
Change was needed and it was on the way whether the old guard liked it or not. The volunteer ethos that the GAA had been built on has long been diluted. Congress still decides on what direction the organisation needs to go, yet those that vote rarely listen to the evidence or detailed reports that are done for the best way forward. Even when it came to shortening the county season to help the club season they didn’t listen.
The GPA forwarded a motion to Congress; needless to say it didn’t pass because they are not looked on favourably by many that would attend Congress. They are not looked upon favourably by many club members either, accusing them of being elitist and only interested in county players. Well that is what they were set up for and such is the short sightedness by those very same GAA members do they not realize that those very same county players are club players also.
A few weeks back the GPA signed a new deal with the GAA hierarchy. The deal gave the players improved travelling expenses; a nutrition fund was set up for players to draw down from;200,000 thousand euro was put aside for surgical procedures for past players, a group that has been long forgotten by many in the plush offices of Croke Park.
They would also receive 15% of net central commercial revenue. The deal will be worth just over 18m euro in the next three years and with commercial revenues expected to rise within the GAA this will only grow and is something that will be part and parcel of GAA culture from here on.
The dissenters to the deal suggested that it has put us on the road of pay-for-play. In the 17 or 18 years that the GPA has existed they have never asked or said that pay-for-play was on their agenda. In fact on many occasions they have shot down the suggestion in public and many of the players have reiterated those very same lines. Who do you believe? Well that’s up to you but I know who I believe.
The deal didn’t stop there. A working group was to be set up to look at the demands placed not only on county players but also on their club brothers. Now we have seen many working groups or reports set up in the past and very little or anything have come from them but this might just be slightly different because every member of the GPA knows that when their county career comes to an end they will continue to play for their clubs and will only want the current structures to improve so I would suggest it will be something that will be pursued rather than forgotten.
There is still a bitterness at times towards players and there are many who have personal gripes against those involved in the players’ body but I go back to the question I asked in the beginning - if the players were being looked after like we were told for years why did a group of county players go to such lengths to set up a body “to protect and support the rights and needs of the player” if it was already being done?
There are plenty of past county players out there that would tell you a different story than those that were spun for years.