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Egos and agendas must be set aside

Tunnel vision of GPA and CPA reminds me of challenges I faced when ambassador for rural Ireland

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Pat Spillane

Pat Spillane

Pat Spillane

I get a sense of déjà vu every time I read a statement from either the GPA or the CPA.

It brings me back to my days as a rural ambassador for the government. In my innocence, I assumed that everybody involved wanted the same outcome, the betterment of rural Ireland. How wrong I was.

Though all the organisations involved operated parallel to each other they didn't co-operate.

The GAA is not a whole lot different.

I remember being really down in the dumps following the first meeting involving all the government departments, agencies and key stakeholders.

Only then did I realise that they all worked from completely different agendas. I complained to Phil Hogan (below), who was the lead minister on the project at the time. He said: "Pat, you've got to remember that they are just like Gaelic full-backs simply protecting their own patch."

It is no different in the GAA world. Be it HQ, the GPA, the CPA, provincial councils, county boards and assorted other bodies, their first priority is also to protect their own area.

It was the same story again and again when I was the rural ambassador.

I will never forget my first meeting with the all-powerful Irish Farmers Association.

After I had put forward my vision for rural Ireland their main spokesman eye-balled me and remarked: `Pat, just remember we are a lobby group for farmers.

'We don't give a shite about what's happening in the rest of rural Ireland so long as our farmer members are looked after'.

Well, that put me back in my box.

It was the same story when I met senior officials in the Department of Agriculture. Regardless of what my plans were, they made it crystal clear that we had to focus on what happened outside of challenges I faced the farm gate.

Why? Because what happened inside the gate was their territory.

Decline

When I attempted to steer the discussion on to issues inside the farm gate I was told that the matter was not within my terms of reference, not within my remit or the matter is sub judice.

I guess the use of the Latin phrase was de-signed to put me in my place. They were there to protect their patch, regardless of whether it was the right policy or not.

I won't rehash all the arguments I made. But suffice to say that any plan to halt the decline of rural Ireland has to be inclusive. But nobody was prepared to play ball.

Is it any wonder that rural Ireland has fallen so far behind?

The power struggles involving the various GAA bodies are not much different.

I get why the GPA exists. There is a need for such an organisation and it has very articulate spokesmen such as Tom Parsons, Seamus Hickey and Paul Flynn.

Its money-generating prowess would put many high-profile organisations to shame. Last year its total income was in excess of 7.5m.

Its commercial income realised €911,000, it rolled in €611,994 in fund-raising, while the GAA’s direct payment to the organisation in 2019 was over €2.9m. It’s an impressive money tree by any standards.

Furthermore, I fully endorse a lot of its policies such as its insistence that the inter-county and club season can co-exist. I agreed with its demands for a closed season and optimum contact time for inter-county squads.

From day one, however, it has had a perception problem.

It has never been in control of the narrative and it is difficult for it to avoid the reality of being an elitist organisation, which represents about two per cent of all players.

Worse still, in the early days, key personnel were far too belligerent, argumentative and bolshie and their attitude didn't wash well with the bigger GAA family.

Salaries

Though there is a lot of detail in its financial report I would suggest that there are still gaps in terms of explaining how the money is spent.

In terms of salaries four senior executives cost the organisation 449,163 in 2019, while the remaining six staff members shared 293,204. These are generous stipends by any standards. I have a bigger issue with their extensive list of player programmes. At face value it's a significant list, with 19 programmes listed.

But it's a bit wishy-washy to put it mildly. Like, what the hell is personal development coaching?

For me, it smacks of being borrowed from an American higher-education playbook big on theory and low on practicalities.

Mind you, it comes in handy when the GPA goes to the US to shake down potential wealthy American benefactors.

The GPA's promotion of the Super 11s tournament is an absolute joke at a time when hurling is on life support in the majority of counties. And, finally, there remains the perception that the GPA is controlled by an inner circle of Dublin-based executives.

But the really bad news for the GPA is that financially its future suddenly looks bleak.

Not alone will the pandemic put an end to its fund-raising efforts in the United States, it will also mean the terms of its new deal with the GAA will be less favourable.

Flogged

Methinks, there will be fewer personal coaching development programmes on offer in the coming years.

But the bigger issue is how has the GPA served the interests of the county players?

My answer is that it hasn't served them well.

They have simply sat back and allowed the inter-county bandwagon to career out of control, which has resulted in its members being flogged unmercifully.

Its recent contradictory statement on the return-to-play protocol did it no favours.

The GAA was rightly ridiculed for asking clubs to ‘grass’ on their county players who were skipping club sessions in order to train with the county.

Well the GPA has decided to follow the same route. It is setting up a confidential disclosure forum which players can use to report team managers for breaching the closed-season ban.

Well, good luck with that one lads.

Given that it represents 98per cent of all players, the Club Players’ Association has a right to be heard.

Furthermore, any organisation that counts among its prominent members Liam Griffin, one of the greatest GAA men of all time, deserves to be listened to.

Though the CPA is a much younger body than the GPA, it hasn’t learned any of the lessons from the mistakes the latter organisation has made.

Like the GPA, they were far too confrontational and aggressive at the start and have struggled to recover since.

Their most recent statement took the biscuit, however.

They suggested that such was the crisis in the GAA that its future was at stake.

Furthermore, they wanted clarity on the issues they had raised within two weeks.

Are they off their heads?

We are in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic and these guys are acting like a bunch of spoilt brats.

It’s akin to the crew of the Titanic demanding a pay increase right as the ship steamed towards the iceberg.

Of course, there are issues to be addressed. But the priority now is to survive the pandemic.

Someday, hopefully, the Covid-19 crisis will pass. Then we can have a mature national conversation involving all the stakeholders about the future direction of the GAA.

For it to have any chance of success it will require co-operation and compromise from all the stakeholders involved.

Egos and agendas will have to be left at the door.

The famous Irish phrase ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’ (There is no strength without unity) ought to be the slogan for such a forum.