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11 October 2007 Edition

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Matt Treacy

There’s trouble at t’mill

IN HIS 1936 novel, In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck depicts a strike by Californian fruit pickers. The main protagonists are Jim Nolan and Mac, two solutions-oriented Communist Party organisers who take jobs as pickers in order to do a bit of what used to be known in the old days as agitation. But sure, young people nowadays would know nothing about that sort of thing.
My first experience of a strike was as an apprentice welder in support of our demand that we be allowed join a trade union. The Ancient Society of Benevolent and Dependable Boilermakers, Submarine Plumbers and Allied Trades, I think it was. Anyway, it all come to nought because the bosses had cunningly divided us all up on the day and I was the only one to leave work.
Well, I was not quite alone actually as I was joined by a rag-tag of Trotskyists and, more exotically even, Maoists, who thought that I was the real goat’s genolockers: a genuine proletarian fighter for justice and socialism. I left them to their intricate and lengthy slogans and went to the pub to ponder the fickleness of my brothers in struggle. Backsliding bastards.
What this all has to do with the GAA, of course, is that the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA) is now threatening to bring the class struggle to the playing fields of Banba. Instead of Mac we have Dessie ‘The Red’ Farrell, and in place of Bolter, President of the Fruitgrowers’ Association, we have Nicky Brennan. The issue being the continuing dispute over grants for inter-county players.
While Brennan is being cast by the GPA in the role of the Victorian music hall villain who ties the pretty girl to the train track, the person who is responsible for a lot of the trouble is actually former Sports Minister John ‘The Bull’ O’Donoghue. Despite being a Kerryman, O’Donoghue seems to have gone out of his way at times to make things awkward for the GAA. If Croke Park had a dog track, things might be different.
While he promised €5 million to be made available for the promised grants – something the GAA has agreed to – the Government is insisting that it comes from funding given to the association to support the building and improvement of facilities. A kind of roundabout way of obscuring the fact that it is the state and not the GAA ponying up. Or perhaps of forcing the GAA to consume some dessert of a humble recipe.
Brennan has also made the not unreasonable point that, given the limited resources available, it would be unfair to provide grants to players from the infrastructure fund while turning down other proposals. The GAA has asked that the €5 million be provided specifically to pay the grant, as was their understanding when they agreed to the grant in the first place.
Anyway, the upshot of it all is that there is ‘trouble at t’mill’. The Connacht GPA met on Monday evening and there is now going to be a ballot among all GPA members to decide whether or not to take strike action. I can already see the Spartacist League unfurling banners outside GAA grounds when the league recommences. “Victory to the Toiling Corinthians of the Gaelic Players’ Association in their Just Struggle Against the Obscurantist Exploiters of the GAA.”
The players do have legitimate issues and the bottom line ought to be that no-one is out of pocket because they play for their county. And that ought to apply as much to someone who hurls for Leitrim as plays football for Dublin.
In any event, that principle has been conceded by the GAA but the devil is in the detail it would appear. And no thanks it would seem to the manner in which the Government have made the money available. A cynic would almost believe that they have done so in a way most likely to cause internal problems or perhaps, more charitably, they are ensuring that no precedent is set for other amateur athletes. To be honest, I do not know.
Curiously, while Farrell has attacked Brennan for his alleged intransigence and claimed that the GAA has refused to countenance any solution, Brennan did say that they would have no problem with the money being paid through the Sports Council, as suggested as a compromise by the GPA. Whether that is accepted is down to the Government, I assume. It would appear, however, to contain the germ of a solution.
Hopefully, matters will not degenerate to the stage where a strike does take place. But before that there has to be the ballot and it is by no means certain that a majority of GPA members do actually favour such a drastic step. Even if they did, such a move would be sure to cause huge tensions within panels and within counties.
On a lighter note, it would provide an unbearable temptation for some lads to scab. If county boards insisted on fielding teams then they would have to get players from somewhere and I’d say there would be no shortage of volunteers. If nothing else, it would provide plenty of stories for the grandchildren. “Did I ever tell you about the time I played for the county...”
On the other hand, the same grandchildren would have to face the ignominy of being pointed out in the crowd at Parnell Park. “There’s one of them, son. The blackleg Murphys.”*

* Any reference to a person or persons with the surname Murphys is purely unintentional. All characters are fictional, although one is allegedly based on a living person.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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