GPA calls for change

Various controversies arose this year insofar as referees decisions, “a point or wide ?”, yellor cards enough ? and the Allianz Hurling competition and above all what can the GAA do to help keep its rising young stars – and many not so young – in Ireland during the difficult days all workers have to face throughout the land but even more so in rural counties.Massive emigration has already means several counties having to scrap their Minor competitions whilst many clubs are likely to have to merge in the coming year or face shut down it is feared.

So an opportunity for the Gaelic Players Association to outline their views for the future, came at the GPA Players Association’s annual general meeting in Dublin yesterday. Here are the main thoughts from that AGM including Dessie Farrell’s address to his members – and indirectly to GAA HQ:

GPA Annual General Meeting, 2011

Election of Officers

The following officers were returned:

President: Brian Whelahan.

Chairman: Dónal Óg Cusack.

Secretary: Ronan Sweeney (Kildare)


The following motions were passed:

1. Match Day Panel Numbers

That the GPA calls upon the GAA to increase match day panel numbers for all senior inter-county championship matches from 26 to 30. It is proposed that teams be allowed to name fifteen substitutes, from which five can be used.

2. Championship Structures

That the GPA reviews the current structures of the inter-county senior football and hurling championships, assesses the latest views of the GPA membership and publishes proposals for alternative models based on increasing the appeal to players, patrons and commercial interests alike, mindful of the need to facilitate credible club programmes.

3. Playing Rules

That the GPA brings forward proposals for progressive changes to playing rules, where appropriate, based on qualitative research and structured consultation with the GPA membership with the aim of increasing the appeal of our games.

4. Third Level Restrictions

The GPA calls on the Higher Education Committee of the GAA to rescind its decision to limit the number of players allowed access to elite entry programmes in third level institutions as it restricts access to education for a cohort of inter-county players

Main points from the address by GPA Chief Executive Dessie Farrell:

The GPA has always been guided by the principle of never resting on past achievements and this dictum will continue to lead us into 2012.

However, it would be remissive not to dwell briefly on what has been an incredibly successful year for the Association and everyone involved with the GPA.

The announcement of a comprehensive agreement between the GPA and GAA guaranteed long-term support for the Player Development Programme, a significant milestone for county players.

And what was particularly pleasing about 2011 was the rapid growth in engagement by players with the Programme in the areas of Career Development, Education, Health and Wellbeing, Life Skills and Benevolent Support. While the entire membership has benefitted from our enhanced injury scheme, well over half of the playing body has engaged with one or more of our services directly.

I’d like to thank the GPA staff members for their dedication to meeting our objectives for the year.

They have embraced substantial organisational change over the past two years and have done so with great efficiency and enthusiasm. I’d also like to thank our officers, National Executive and various committee members for their outstanding voluntary commitment to the GPA.

Our service providers have helped forge the Development Programme with their professionalism on the front line and I would like to thank them for their outstanding service. And a special word of thanks to GAA Ard Stiúrthóir Paraic Duffy and Uachtarán Christy Cooney for their unstinting support of the Development Programme and the work of the GPA. I wish Christy Cooney the very best in his final months in office. His tenure has been a historic one for players as he played a pivotal role in the advancement of their welfare.

The GPA Player Awards and Gala Night have played an integral role in the development of the GPA since their establishment in 2000. With the generous support of Opel, they helped the players’ body to assert itself on the national stage. However, as part of the recognition protocol signed between the GPA and GAA it was agreed that it would be prudent to combine the strengths of both awards schemes, particularly given the current economic circumstances.

In September the respective annual player awards schemes were merged under the sponsorship of long-time GPA supporter Opel where the achievements of the season’s outstanding players were recognised jointly for the first time.

Making a difference to the off-field lives and careers of our members is the GPA’s central aim and rapid uptake of services augurs really well for the future welfare of players and our games.

With no sign of a break in the dire economic situation, supporting the career development, job prospects and educational needs of our members remains critical.

And there is no more satisfying correspondence to receive than the testimony of a player who has gained employment or taken a significant career step thanks to the Programme.

While realistically outcomes won’t always be successful immediately, particularly when it comes to searching for jobs, we continue to encourage players to consider all their options including engaging with our personal development advisers, up-skilling or returning to education. Our support services for players are life-long, tailored to suit all ages and needs.

The implementation and expansion of our Player Development Programme was a priority for the GPA in 2011 but we remain committed to delivering on all our objectives for the calendar year as outlined by our National Executive in our Annual Plan.

However, as referenced by our chairman, funding remains a serious issue for the GPA as it is for all organisations, and the continuing effectiveness of the Player Programme is dependent on sourcing further revenue streams through projects such as fundraising in the US and joint commercial ventures with the GAA.

We also face the on-going challenge of maintaining Government Funding for inter-county players, an issue we will continue to champion. We will continue to highlight the substantial contribution made by our members to the social and cultural fabric of the country as revealed in our Economic Impact Study published last year which showed that the inter-county game is worth over 200m to the Irish economy annually.

As for our future plans, the GPA will finalise its three-year strategic plan before the end of 2011 which will chart a clear course for our activity up to 2015. Central to that plan is the objective of ensuring that county players, who contribute so much to Gaelic games, Irish culture and Irish society, are supported with their off-field lives through the GPA’s Player Development Programme. The challenge of generating new funding streams for the Association’s Programme remains significant but one we must meet with vigour and passion.

As part of delivering culture change initiatives the GPA intends to introduce a comprehensive Induction Programme for new players to prepare them for all facets of their future careers in county hurling or football. We are committed to providing an increasingly personalised service to each of our members, tailored to suit their particular needs at all points of their careers.

Given the current economic situation in Ireland and the need to foster entrepreneurial spirit to aid recovery we hope to speed up our Business Support and Start-Up Programmes by identifying entrepreneurs within our own ranks and providing them with the relevant assistance to get them to the next level, thus helping to populate the next generation of successful Irish business people.

Once again we witnessed a marvellous season of Gaelic games, one marked by the resurgence of a number of traditionally strong counties like Donegal and Dublin, the latter in hurling and football. Games were remarkably well attended despite the on-going recession once again proving the extraordinary drawing power of hurling and football in the face of endless competition from international professional sports.

However, following a number of player surveys over the past two years there is strong evidence of an appetite among players for the structure of the inter-county football championship to be reviewed and in particular, the provincial championships. A motion is being tabled for our AGM calling on the GPA to publish a proposal for the future of the football championship, one based on increasing the appeal to players, patrons and commercial interests alike and one mindful of the need to facilitate a credible club programme.

Another issue still to be resolved concerns payments to managers. The GPA has detailed its views in this regard, that payments should be legitimised and formalised. Our members have endorsed making the arrangement with managers legitimate and the GPA is satisfied this won’t in any way lead to a call for payments to players.

The GPA remains dedicated to county players throughout their lives and guided by the principles of excellence, commitment, compassion and transparency. Through collaboration with the GAA and other entities, the GPA will continue to deliver and to innovate, and by doing so will make a real difference to the lives of players, the prosperity of our games and the social and cultural fabric of this country.

So as Dessie Farrell said in his speech a number of issues to be faced in immediate future and we look forward to hearing the learning of the GAA’s response but most of all the continuation of further discussions between the two Associations and particularly on the subject of what can be done on the employment front and what are the GAA’s own views on what they can do about the problems facing all counties in Ireland but especially those in rural areas.


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