ALMOST exactly four years ago, a few days after GAA Congress, a member of the executive of the Club Players Association (CPA) logged into their email and noticed their inbox packed with mails sent over the previous 18 hours, each one loaded with as much anger and frustration as the next.
The comments were from a broad range of players, club and inter-county, but they all featured a recurring theme: strike, or the threat of a strike.
When the possibility of a club players’ strike was discussed at one of the first CPA meetings in 2016, it was shot down. Liam Griffin, an executive member, said that he would not support that “nuclear” option.
But the views of the CPA were so blatantly ignored and discarded at that 2017 GAA Congress, that such an action has been mooted by some as the only way for the players to have their voices heard.
As well as being denied the opportunity to speak at that Congress, when the motion for recognition of the CPA came up for discussion, delegates from Sligo, Galway and Down strongly opposed it. It was immediately obvious that any vote to recognise the CPA would be heavily defeated, so Tipperary and Wexford withdrew the motion. A round of applause followed, which seemed like a two-fingered salute to players everywhere.
The CPA had come with their own proposals, which was a well-thought-out blueprint, but the document was too radical for the GAA’s liking. And the GAA responded to that threat to their authority and governance through marginalisation.
The CPA was another independent body which, at face value, was part of their difficulty in trying to have their voices heard above all of the different and independent bodies within the Association.
The CPA still grasped one key fundamental point – that everything within the GAA needed to be looked at in their totality, with proper regard for club/county balance, developmental needs, promotional profile and revenue generation.
The CPA’s emergence also asked a number of hugely important questions, especially when the organisation represented 98% of the GAA playing population; if the GAA were so reluctant to listen to a body representing such a colossal cohort of its own members, where were the GAA going as an Association? If the GAA had a grand master-plan, where did the club players sit in it? Were their voices ever going to be heard?
For years, they weren’t. Just one of the CPA’s motions made it on to the Clár for the 2018 Congress, and it was soundly defeated.
It’s only 16 months ago since the CPA withdrew from the GAA’s Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force, just days before that body was due to deliver its recommendations to GAA hierarchy for a revamped calendar.
The CPA said that they could not “in good conscience put our names to such a compromised document.” They also claimed the task force was a “Trojan Horse designed to give cover to GAA authorities to ratify the status quo while having the appearance of consultation and thoughtful deliberation.”
The CPA had put forward two concrete fixture plans, but their organisation never had the power of the political clout to really influence the kind of change that they wanted, and which the GAA desperately needed.
The variance in club populations from county to county makes it harder again but the only way to address that headache was to try and establish a model of best practise that could be applied to every club structure across the country.
That would have been impossible to fix when the club season was still so heavily interconnected, intertwined and dependent on the inter-county season. Croke Park wanted the inter-county season, both in timing and length, to maximise its marketing potential, promotional profile and revenue generation, but the length of the season ultimately entrapped the clubs.
Croke Park repeatedly lay the blame at individual county boards, but the system was even more of a vicious cycle when clubs were also governed by self-interest.
Having a defined season would extricate clubs from the perennial mess but the CPA’s foresight was lost in the fog. From the outset, the CPA had spoken about having the inter-county season wrapped up by July.
It took the pandemic for that ultimate aim to finally get some traction. When the GAA were forced to adopt a split-season in 2020, the benefits were soon obvious.
When the CPA released a detailed brief last September outlining how a split season might operate in the GAA calendar, both drafts proposed an inter-county season running from February to the middle of July, with club championships then beginning, provincial club competitions starting in late October and the All-Ireland club finals being staged in mid-December.
The drafts also proposed inter-county pre-season competitions to be scrapped, and that all club championships have a maximum of 16 teams. More or less everything in those drafts was passed last Saturday in the split-season model.
Now that the CPA have dissolved, the next step is for county boards to implement the split season appropriately to ensure a vastly improved platform for participation in games for all players at all levels.
It may have taken a pandemic for the CPA to ultimately achieve their aims. But their legacy is secure in how they went about moving such a contentious and divisive issue into mainstream policy for the betterment of GAA players everywhere.