GAA should take a leaf out of IRFU playbook, says John Horan
Nucifora-type figure would combat pressure on players, says GAA president
Elish Kelly and Alan Barrett of the ESRI, GAA president John Horan and GPA chief Séamus Hickey at the launch of the ESRI report at Croke Park on Tuesday. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
He was responding to Tuesday’s launch of the ESRI report, Playing Senior Inter-County Games: Experiences, Realities and Consequences, commissioned by the GAA and Gaelic Players Association (GPA).
“We are at a point, and it’s been shown in the stats here today, where our younger players are coming under more pressure than our older players because of their multiple commitments to college, under-20, under-21 and senior teams,” said Horan.
“Is it time for us as an organisation to take on board a character similar to David Nucifora in rugby where we have an actual player welfare officer who ties in with our players who dictates what is appropriate or not appropriate for our players to engage in?
“Or do we leave it to the multiple of managers to work on their own individual relationships, because if that’s happening then maybe the player isn’t central to it at all.”
He added: “It’s funny enough, some managers could be the greatest clubmen when they are with the club, all of a sudden become a different character when they are with the county and tell players not to play with their clubs. Maybe we need an independent adjudicator to control some of that.”
Séamus Hickey, chair of the GPA, was enthusiastic.
“That’s a terrific idea. I’d love that,” he said.
“This is always a balancing act; we are a stakeholder in the GAA and we are always conscious of that, but our remit is to take the best possible care we can of inter-county players and we will continue to push to do that.
“A designated player relations officer or whatever is there in the IRFU – that’s a very intriguing prospect and again it might eliminate this see-saw motion of new managers, new regimes and different philosophies coming in and changing how things were done. I would encourage it, I would be for it but, again, it is resource-dependent.”
Hickey also agreed that there could be a role for a county board officer, specifically to monitor the demands on players.
GAA president Horan also observed that he knew of players who were choosing careers to facilitate their playing commitments.
Other people are going along with jobs that suit them because time-wise they are able to commit themselves
“There is no major shock there for me out of any of that. It’s just to use it that now that we have actual hard facts that we can actually build on and it’s not just working off opinion.
“I’ve met people who have told me, ‘I’m actually a schoolteacher to suit my inter-county career and when my inter-county career comes to an end, I’ll change my career path.’
“Other people are going along with jobs that suit them because time-wise they are able to commit themselves. But you kind of have to say to them, ‘Where are you going long-term with your career?’”
Asked was the commitment to the games excessive, Horan accepted that it was considerable.
“It probably is very much on the high side, yes, but again it’s a conscious decision you make in your own life. Are you going to commit to that over a period of time? Eighty-three per cent were happy with that.”
Speaking on more general issues, the GAA president said that he believed there would be changes to the games in the year ahead, with a shake-up on the cards for the Allianz Hurling League, as a response to the trend that has seen the last two All-Ireland champions come from ostensibly the lower division, 1B, and the relentless competitiveness of the top flight, 1A.
“There is a view,” he said, “that we will go back to two equal divisions and that they would play and there would only be relegation between the bottom two in each division so relegation wouldn’t be a factor and teams would get a chance to rest players and that players would get a chance to break through.”
He also proposed a further change to the provincial hurling championships, which were a great success but triggered some scheduling issues. By playing every week for six weeks, Horan pointed out that the prospect of having to play three and four weeks running would be eliminated.
“If you do it over six weeks, and if both provinces had two games each – week one and two – and both of them had a game each, weeks three and four, and two games week five and six. Nobody would play more than two weeks in a row.”
Finally, he updated media on new proposals for a tiered football championship.
“We discussed it the last day at central council – everybody was of the view that it should happen. We have written to the counties and we have asked them to come back with what they feel should be the make-up of a tier two competition. We will take on board what they have to offer and we will present it.”