Growing disconnect between GAA and members
The Club Player’s Association (CPA) was launched almost three years ago as a culmination of the frustration, and disenchantment that was and is still being felt by GAA club players around the country.
The dropout rate in our games is acknowledged as being too high and yet not enough has been done to address the problem. Competing demands on our players are a source of physical injury and a factor in health and wellbeing issues.
From the outset, the CPA has advocated that we wanted a fixtures’ task force formed to review all competitions, and the timing of those competitions, so that all factions of the GAA would get a fair allocation of time to play their games. The administration of Páraic Duffy and Aogan O’Fearghaill ignored our requests to set up such a review in the last years of their tenure.
When John Horan and Tom Ryan took office in early 2018 we engaged with them in a similar fashion and after three one-on-one discussions that I had with the new Director General on the issue over last winter, John Horan finally agreed to set up the Calendar Review Task Force in 2019.
In my discussions with Tom Ryan, we both agreed that the mix of the task force needed to include individuals representing every area of the GAA.
We strongly pushed for an independent chairman that was ‘of the GAA’ but ‘not from the GAA’. And we specifically did not think it would be a good idea to have people involved who would be defensive and protective of decisions that were made previously.
We put forward the names of three independent chairmen who we thought were suitable for the post and had no connection to the CPA but would be capable of chairing such a task force. We also put forward names of people who could be task force members and had a good grasp of the games.
In the end, John Horan selected the committee and chairman and did not use any of our recommendations except a representative from the CPA, a representative from the GPA (Gaelic Players Association) and a representative from third level.
Whilst disappointed that there were so many insiders on the task force, our executive voted to proceed to engage with the task force in good faith. John Horan and Tom Ryan met with myself, Liam Griffin, Michael Higgins and Joan Kehoe on 13 May in Croke Park where the President confirmed that nothing would be off the table.
At that meeting we also asked that an individual qualified in sports science should be considered for inclusion in the task force, given that player welfare and injury prevention is a primary consideration in fixture loading. That appointment to the group did not materialise either. Nevertheless, the decision was made to persevere in good faith in the hope of a positive, productive and proactive process.
On Monday the CPA sent an email to the task force Chairman Eddie Sullivan, withdrawing our participation in the task force with immediate effect. With the publication of the report due to be sent to Central Council shortly, we cannot in good conscience put our names to such a compromised document.
The establishment of the Fixtures Review Group presented the GAA with an unprecedented opportunity to fix the fixtures; to address the biggest concern among GAA players throughout the country; to put in place a programme that reflects the reality that our players face.
As it stands, we are bitterly disappointed and frustrated that this is an opportunity missed and that the GAA membership faces the real prospect of proposals coming forward to Congress that fall short of expectations and do not address the concerns of players and their teams as expressed in our core objectives:
• to establish a national games program with a regular playing season for clubs.
• to curb the pervasive influence of the county scene on the fixtures calendar of club players.
• To set out fixtures for clubs in a definitive manner rather than the current situation whereby club games are vying for space in the calendar alongside inter-county fixtures.
We don’t want to outline a chronological history of all the task force meetings that happened from June to last week here today. It would not be fair to members of the task force to highlight comments or debate at the meetings so we want to maintain that respect and confidentiality. And we must point out that in fairness, there were some very measured and informed debates on quite a lot of topics. But we want to point out the following as summary of our views:
• The task force needed to adopt fixture making principles from the outset. This was not done until early November and no plan has ever been measured against the principles.
• The task force spent the first couple of months hearing submissions from other groups, without ever getting into meaningful discussions on them. The submissions had real merit and were deserving of proper consideration. Task force members were then sent an email on 1 August suggesting three “broad options” for consideration. In the same email, the members were asked to review the submissions from the general public. Despite our best efforts, the three “broad options” suggested on 1 August dominated subsequent discussions. This not only made a mockery of asking the public for their opinion but it also contradicted the notion that “everything was on the table”.
• Our contention is that the task force is a Trojan horse, designed to give cover to the GAA authorities to ratify the status quo, while having the appearance of consultation and thoughtful deliberation. In reality, it will simply be a ratification process for the newly introduced Tier Two football championship and retention of the Super 8s. Proposals that stand the best chance of getting through the decision making process at Congress, are not the same thing as the best proposals for the future of the GAA.
• The task force made a conscious decision not to adjust the hurling structures. While making some small suggestions, the CPA was initially supportive of this approach, as we felt the task force could offer better overall balance if the football championship was properly addressed. However, as this will not happen, it is now obvious to us that rubberstamping the new football championship was the priority of the task force all along.
• The CPA put forward concrete fixture plans at the start of the process, which were not entertained. And the CPA was the only member of the group to develop further plans during the process, responding to feedback in good faith. While not perfect, we believe these two plans are superior to any currently being advocated by the task force. We hoped at least one would be adopted into the final report but when we asked for a vote on 6 November to measure support, we were refused. This is not a matter of sour grapes but illustrates in our view a reluctance to take on board differing views. Our mantra has been it is not who is right but what is right for the Association.
We have handed out a significant trail of recent documentation so that the membership of the GAA can make up their own minds on the authenticity of the task force. It includes:
• Correspondence confirming agreement with CPA and DG and President prior to task force being set up
• Terms of Reference of the task force
• Email from CPA to look to have fixture making principles adopted in early July
• Summary of all the previous reports the chairman asked members to read and as compiled by executive of CPA and distributed to task force
• Letter, presentation and plans as presented by CPA to task force when they formally presented to the group on 18 July. Some hardback copies available also.
• Issues and principles ranked as per CPA Executive
• Email to chairman in August highlighting the lack of meetings among other concerns
• Request to the Fixtures Analyst Committee to forward 2018 analysis, information which was not subsequently provided
• Letter to chairman highlighting more issues in September and critiquing the plans
• Request from Croke Park for Micheál Briody and Paul Flynn of GPA not to debate Tier 2 on RTÉ as it “may not impact positively on the workings of the Fixtures Review Committee”
• 2 x presentation of revised models by CPA to task force in October
• CPA’s comparison of the models as compiled by the task force + CPA 2 models by number of weeks and principles as discussed at 13 November meeting.
We are disappointed that the task force will not deliver the proposed options that the membership deserves to debate and vote upon. The CPA will not be an accomplice to the entrenchment of the status quo.
We felt it was the best option to reveal the efforts that we made and explain the intricate workings of the task force. The membership has been inundated with rhetoric in 2019 of ‘Where We All Belong’ at the same time as our association is fast becoming an organization who no longer prioritises the association as a community-based gaelic games and culture organisation with the club and the club player at its core. Unfortunately, there is a clear and growing disconnect between the leadership of the GAA and their grassroots members.
The reality is one of players voting with their feet and deciding that they do not all belong with their clubs and their teammates. The task force will report in due course and players, members, coaches and administrators can decide for themselves if the results and the proposals are the best that the GAA can come up with for the future of our games.
We in the CPA strongly believe this not to be the case.