GPA point to gambling as the major problem area for intercounty players
Chief exective Dessie Farrell says issue ‘will take up more and more of our time and of our resources’
GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell, GAA president Liam O’Neill, John C Murphy, director, GAA National Injury Database, and Ger Ryan chairman of the association’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee at Croke Park. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) has identified gambling as the most pressing issue facing the wellbeing of the intercounty playing body – more so than alcohol or depression.
This may result in the body formulating a policy banning any betting sponsorship within the GAA. But in the meantime Dessie Farrell, the chief executive of the GPA, says the issue of gambling “will take up more and more of our time and of our resources”.
Farrell raised the issue at the presentation of the GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare committee report – of which he is also a member – and also on the back of the recent blog by Offaly footballer Niall McNamee detailing his own previous gambling addition. He finally sorted it two years ago, having once lost €8,000 in one day, and sold his car for half its value to bankroll his betting.
“What’s been intriguing for us over the last 18 months or so is to understand the level of the problem out there,” said Farrell. “Like Niall (McNamee) is very high-profile, as was Oisín McConville (from Armagh) before him. But there are many others that come to us.
“To put it in perspective, in our mental health programme, gambling would have the highest incidence of players presented to our counsellors. Depression would be next, and you’re working your way back from that. So it is a big issue.
“Part of the problem is the type of lifestyle our players lead, and all that goes on with the game these days. Maybe socially they’re not as active as other civilians in society. So they have time on their hands, particularly late at night . . . .
“And betting is so accessible now. You hear stories now of it happening on buses on the way to games. Fellas on the phone placing bets or whatever. So it is an issue, and will get bigger for us. We’re still trying to find our way with it a little bit, because you don’t want to introduce something on a knee-jerk basis.
“But the more we understand of it the more we realise there is a significant problem amongst not just intercounty players but all GAA players.”
Farrell also discussed the ever-widening spread of player welfare issues, many of which are addressed in conjunction with the GAA, since the two merged. The mobile medical unit, although costly, earlier this year identified a cardiac issue with former Meath football captain Shane McAnarney who eight weeks ago underwent a double heart bypass, with the GPA footing the €30,000 bill.
“If there is one case in which you can avoid a very tragic outcome it is well worth doing it . . . ,” said Farrell.
“At this stage we have screened maybe 1,700 county players over the last two years – a lot of county squads do their own which is very encouraging as well . . .”
The Government-backed GPA players’ grant scheme – once worth around €3.5 million a year – has been cut back to around €900,000 – with the funding level secured for the next three years.
“It’s not at the level it was, a couple of years back, but I think it was really important to keep the principle of the scheme alive . . ”