The Amateur Question


GAELIC GAMES: John O'Mahony believes the challenge facing the GAA is how it manages change around this issue

The treatment of players within the GAA had been simmering as an issue since the formation of the GPA a couple of years ago but the Cork strike really put it into the spotlight. To some this is an inevitable drift towards pay-for-play.

Others contend - and the GPA would support this view - that it is all about the proper treatment of an amateur athlete who has to train professionally and needs support and, above all, respect in order to do this.

My own view would lean towards the latter view. This is more about managing change in our organisation than anything else and that change has been better handled in some counties than in others.

Most of the issues in Cork, for instance, are more to do with facilities, travel, treatment of injuries and general respect than with money. The modern inter-county player has to do some form of training either on the field or in the gym on six out of the seven days a week at certain times of the year and they need all the back-up necessary to do that.

It doesn't create the winning feeling if a player is turned away at the gym entrance because of a dispute as to who pays the fee or if they have to travel a hundred miles to do this gym session because there is only one facility available in the county.

I spoke to one of the Galway players this morning at 8.15 a.m. and he had already done his gym session before he headed off to work. Twenty or 30 years ago most of the gym work would have been done in the form of manual labour during a hard day's work on the farm or on a building site or cycling to training.

Everything has changed in modern life in Ireland in the last 20 years and the GAA needs to embrace that change and move with the times because everyone else has. Career profile, family life, educational standards have all moved on.

The physical training methods, the tactics and pace of the modern game are totally different from even 10 years ago as can be seen from the re-runs of old matches on TG4. It only stands to reason then that the changes must take place off the field as well as on it, with regards to the treatment of players.

No one can deny that money is needed to solve a lot of the issues brought to the surface by the Cork dispute. A couple of points need to be made with regard to the demands of the county's hurlers and footballers.

Firstly, a lot of their requirements are provided automatically to players in a good number of other counties - some who have far less resources than Cork. Secondly, although the provision of tickets for championship matches can be a complicated issue coming up to big matches, most players get more than the six allocated by Croke Park.

The cost of the extra has to be met by the county board and would come to several thousand euro for an All-Ireland final.

The real contentious issue is the one where players lose wages because of time taken off work due to matches or training. Some county boards would find it impossible to meet the costs involved here and the 60c per mile would also put many county boards out of business.

This does not mean that players are not entitled to it because they most certainly are but it's the funding of it that is the issue.

I remember a player in the Mayo panel back in the late '80s returning from London in springtime in order to join the championship panel and taking a cut of about £200 out of his weekly wage at the time (he was an electrician) for the honour and glory of the county jersey.

If he were given a few quid to bridge the gap would he have been regarded as a professional? Hardly.

For the above costs to be met there needs to be a redistribution of the finance within the GAA from the top down. Last year the new championship in football was introduced and provided a financial bonanza. A portion of the gate receipts was redistributed among the counties but that amount was reduced this year.

However, the revenue from the quarter-finals is not taken into consideration in the qualifier calculations. Yet that is when the large match attendances come on stream so they generate a few extra million euro. Some of this should go to the county boards and help them fund the improvements needed in player welfare nationwide.

Admittedly what made the Cork case reflect badly on officialdom is that they are reputedly the richest county board in the country and could supply all that is required from their own resources.

Recent meetings between the GPA and Croke Park seem to have been more productive and that should be welcomed but it would be a real step forward if there could be one group representing the players and elected by the players rather than selected by the GAA president.

The GPA's Dessie Farrell and the official Players' Committee under Jarlath Burns have done valuable work in their respective camps. But it is time to combine the effort rather than divide it.