If the decision to call off their unprecedented strike action wasn’t significant enough, the players also succeeded in forcing the Cork county board into a u-turn of momentous proportions. Once intransigent, stubborn and arrogant, the board agreed to a whole series of demands, which begged the question of why the strike had to go ahead in the first place.
Following a meeting that lasted close on five hours, the representatives of the hurlers and footballers emerged with the concessions they had been seeking for almost two years: A doctor would be present at all league and championship games; a physiotherapist would be present at every training session and a panel of masseurs would be available to the players; travel by air to games in Ulster was assured so that players would be away from home for no more than a day; gym facilities would be available throughout the county and a Cork Teams Support Fund would be established to generate money from the corporate sector.
On the controversial issue of expenses and ticket allowances, the board said it would have to refer to the GAA’s central council for guidance. However, the players are known to be seeking 12 tickets each for a championship game and 20 for an All-Ireland final. They are also demanding a new mileage rate of 89 cents, up from the previous 38 cents, as well as compensation for loss of earnings.
Other issues, such as the supply of hurleys and training gear, were also settled with the players’ legal representative taking copious notes so that an agreement could be drafted and signed by both sides.
“We are there to organize games, the players are there to play games and it was not happening for Cork at inter-county level,” said board chairman Jim Forbes. “I think we’ll be better for the whole experience.”
Certainly, the courageous stand taken by the Cork hurlers and footballers, who held their nerve in the face of behind-the-scenes intimidation, comes as a boost for other intercounty players. While some counties have moved with the times in the way they manage players, the lack of action as was previously the case in Cork was the main reason why the Gaelic Players Association came into being two years ago. And while the Cork players stressed that their dispute wasn’t about the GPA, the climate for the strike was created by the new body.
The Cork situation has also highlighted the GAA’s amateur status. In the modern era, the pressure on players to prepare in the manner of professionals has increased while the attitude of the Cork county board has prevailed. Apart from demanding both respect and a fair deal from officialdom, the players have been insisting that they shouldn’t be out of pocket for representing their county.
The ripple effect of the Cork dispute is already being felt with the highlighting of arrangements between some counties and their senior players.
“Counties are reimbursing players for loss of earnings,” said GPA chairman Dessie Farrell. “If a player has to get somebody to cover his shift at work, then I’d be aware of that happening in at least a half a dozen counties.”
Equally, it has emerged that Kilkenny have reimbursed the farmers on their hurling panel who have incurred expenses when they are away from work.
That may be the acceptable face of the GAA in some counties, but the problem is that those arrangements are technically against the rules of the association. The GAA simply turns a blind eye to shamateurism. In the absence of any change of the official rule on out of pocket expenses, the GPA is demanding that all senior inter-county players be paid a flat rate of euro 127 per week.
The Cork players who won such a notable victory last week have insisted that pay for play was never on their agenda. But if the demands on players continue and if the GAA shows it has the money to build a magnificent stadium such as Croke Park, the issue of money for players will not go away.