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6 March 2008 Edition

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Matt Treacy

Clubs field concerns

AN unforeseen effect of the Cork players’ strike has been to galvanise opposition to the grants scheme which was agreed last November to avert the threat of a strike by Gaelic Players’ Association members.
There has been a significant groundswell among club members against the proposal and it will now be debated at Congress, where it will need the approval of county delegates, something that was not thought to have been an issue when the grant scheme was agreed to by Central Council.
A motion being put to the Dublin County Board by the St Joseph’s/O’Connell Boys club calls for the rejection of the agreement with the GPA on the basis that payment of the grant to inter-county players will constitute a breach of Rule 11 which states: “The association is an amateur association. A player, team, official or member shall not accept payment in cash or in kind in conjunction with the playing of Gaelic games.”
The motion was to have been voted on last Monday but the club asked and was given a deferment until all club delegates were provided with the necessary information and until after the Central Council meeting on 17 March and a possible hearing by the Disputes Resolution Authority on 14 March of the case being put against the grant scheme by ‘Of One Belief’, the group co-ordinating grassroots opposition.
While anti-grants motions passed by Fermanagh and Armagh have already been rejected by Central Council, motions from Tyrone and Derry will be debated and there are motions similar to the Joey’s one from St Gall’s in Antrim and O’Rahilly’s in Louth. Mark Conway, organiser for Of One Belief, was notably upbeat following the offer to present their case to the Disputes Resolution Authority.
He is also firmly opposed to the suggestion from the DRA that the GPA be allowed appear before it to put its side of the argument. As Conway put it:
“To quote Lord Brookeborough, I wouldn’t have Dessie Farrell about the place. The GPA has no status in the GAA. Nor is it any part of the GAA. This case is between GAA members and Central Council, using our own internal systems and procedures. The DRA has no jurisdiction over the GPA. The GPA shouldn’t be there.”
The prospect of a major debate on the grants and the possibility of their being rejected has energised both those within the GAA who regard the agreement as a necessary compromise and the GPA which was not expecting that the clubs might put a spanner in the works.

GAA Director-General Paraic Duffy, who negotiated the agreement, declared that the agreement with the GPA does not breach Rule 11 and that they will be putting a motion to Congress to approve the agreement on that basis. From a political point of view, such a motion would be easier to carry as it would not require the two-thirds majority that would be necessary to approve a change to the rule book.
One thing is certain that there will be motions opposed to the grant and it will be debated in a way that will indeed focus on the rules and ethos of the association, which is the last thing that those within the GAA who favour the scheme want. Any rejection of the agreement with the GPA will once again raise the spectre of a strike and at a time when that would almost certainly impact on the championship.
And not only is opposition from within the clubs gathering strength but the three candidates to succeed Nicky Brennan as president – Liam O’Neill of Laois, Christy Cooney of Cork, and Sean Fogarty of Tipperary – have all basically come out against the grant. Given that they have all been busily canvassing support around the country, this is a better indication than any of what the majority view is. Indeed, Fogarty declared that he’s certain that if club players had a vote that the grants would be  rejected “out of hand”.

SENSING that they are losing the battle for hearts and minds, the GPA came out strongly against the Joey’s motion. Farrell described their case as “farcical” and claimed that the GPA’s legal advice is that the agreement would have no impact on inter-county players’ amateur status nor any implications (as argued by Joey’s) under EU law in relation to the status and freedom of movement of sports people, as encapsulated in the Bosman ruling on professional soccer players.
But just in case such legalistic arguments have no effect, Seán Potts of the GPA appealed directly to the blue heart of the Dublin clubs. If they rejected the grants then they were, in effect, demeaning Ciarán Whelan and Shane Ryan and Ronan Fallon. The trouble is that many club players (and no reflection on any county player) see the grants as having the same implication for themselves.
There is also the perception among club players (and this is particularly strong in Dublin given the often farcical fixtures arrangements which saw the abandonment of several adult competitions last year) that the county teams are all that matter. Formalising that through the payment of grants then might be seen as a further loss of caste.
But apart from that there is the genuine fear that the GAA is moving to a situation where county teams will become divorced from the clubs. That is not something that is felt among the general public or among the legions who materialise during the summer to watch the All-Ireland championship.
But as was seen in Cork, in the clash between the players and the County Board, it is something that is strongly felt among the clubs who are, after all, the people who keep the whole thing going, not chaps with sombreros who can march a thousand people around the Grand Parade in support of striking players but can only muster a couple of car-loads to watch them play.
It will be interesting to see then if the grassroots revolt has the momentum to force the GAA to refuse to implement the grants. And if so, what will happen next? Will the GPA accept the defeat or will it once again threaten to disrupt inter-county competitions? This year’s Congress promises to be an interesting weekend.

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