Tipping Point: First job of CPA is to tackle the shrug
Formation of Club Players’ Association will give focus to underlying anger with GAA
Grassroots: 99 per cent of the GAA’s playing base is club players. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Here is a story about a club player. A junior footballer. There’d be no particular upside to identifying the club or county here, so we’ll skip past minor details to save him the slagging on the off-chance he ever gets around to pulling the boots out of the garage again. Doesn’t matter where he’s from anyway – just because his circumstances are unique doesn’t mean his story is.
The club made a big push last year. Yeah, yeah, just like everyone else. But this crowd meant it. Trained from before Christmas, did the whole bonding weekend thing, ran up a mountain, you name it. Lo and behold, once the games got going, they were a coming side. Bit short on wizards to do the scoring for them, but dogged as anything. Ran all day, hit so you’d feel it the next morning. One of those teams nobody wanted to see creeping up on the fixture list.
They played the first round of the championship on a sunny Saturday evening in the middle of May and blew through the opposition. Beat them by 20-odd points, could have broken 30 handy enough if the mood had been on them. And then they went out and lorried pints till dawn because the second round wasn’t going to be played until August.
Life shifts and shimmies all the time. Over the next three months, everything happened and nothing happened. He and his wife were expecting their first kid, but around then they found out they were actually expecting their first and second. Yikes. Due date was October, but realistically it was going to happen before then. Twins – premature twins at that – are no friends of the junior footballer.
But then, hope – of a sort. His county got knocked out of the championship early. Like, a month early. Walking out of the ground after the defeat, he was annoyed, but not too annoyed. Surely this meant the club championship would kick back into gear a month early too?
No, as it turned out. Height of summer, mighty weather, all county players available for selection, and still the county board insisted that the championship only start again in mid-August. So it was written, so it came to be.
By the time the games came around, our man was half there and two-thirds elsewhere. The twins landed the week of the quarter-final and got out of hospital a month later, just after the semi-final. He didn’t keep his place in the team – he’d have needed to be a better player or a worse father to hang on – and in the end, he watched the county final defeat from the bench. Not much he could do about it, just shrug and get on with life.
To any club player reading this, nothing in this story would constitute a surprise. Not a club championship that took five months to complete four games – indeed, five months is far from the worst. Not a full month in the middle of the summer sitting idle, even though the county team is done for the year. And certainly not the casual, implicit reminder of their place in the food chain.
Today in Ballyboden, the press will gather at the launch of the Club Players’ Association (CPA). Cock an ear for any length of time and you’ll hear no end of hard-luck stories, plenty of them harder than this one. But the general point will stay the same: the people who have to wait longest for fairness in the GAA are club footballers and hurlers.
Why? Because nobody ever lost a gig in the GAA screwing over the club player. You can do it with total impunity and get out the gap with a spotless conscience. When Congress 2016 opposed a motion to shorten the intercounty season by a couple of weeks to make room for club games, it barely raised an eyebrow. Whose howls of outrage can you remember from the time? Anyone’s?
Instead, it was greeted with the club player’s greatest enemy: the shrug. Club players always suffer more from indifference than they do from ill-will. In theory, most GAA people would love to sort something out for the club player. In practice, not enough GAA people have ever given it a second thought.
This is the great deception in the association. It’s what people mean when they talk about lip service and the club player. The people in charge can do what they like in service of the intercounty game because they know they won’t catch too much heat for it at club level.
You don’t have to scratch too much of the surface in most clubs to find the majority are in it for a bit of a laugh and a few jars after training, and wouldn’t cancel a holiday for a rearranged game in a blue fit.
You hear it trotted out that 99 per cent of the GAA’s playing base is made of up of club players. But that’s not the same as saying that 99 per cent of the playing base is up in arms about this issue. If that was the case, it wouldn’t have taken until now for something to be done.
That’s why the CPA is important. Declan Brennan and his people need to give the undercurrent of annoyance a face and a name and a focus. It’s easy to wring hands at the plight of the club player when the club player is an amorphous blob Somewhere Out There who doesn’t demand answers.
That shouldn’t be the case when the CPA has its legs under it. The shrug should be harder to get away with from this point on.