It wasn’t that the footballers were protesting about their coach and management team, their objection was aimed at the Cork County Board, which had effectively ignored the players’ demands for better conditions.
Once again, the same problems over gym facilities, playing gear, ticket allocation, transportation and expenses were being aired. If Cork weren’t the only county in Ireland to fail its players, then nearly all of its dirty linen was still being washed in public.
The footballers had more stories of shabby treatment, of day-long journeys by bus to games, of expenses claims that weren’t honored and of gear shortages that were the product of sheer meanness.
Meanwhile, other counties sensed the mood. There were rumblings from Kerry about the way the footballers’ wives and partners were treated after this year’s All Ireland final. Inadequate accommodation was the first problem, and then the players flew home from Dublin while their loved ones had to endure a lengthy train journey — with no restaurant — and then two bus connections before arrival at Killarney.
Offaly’s hurlers complained, so did the Fermanagh footballers and the Gaelic Players Association spoke of unrest around the country. Back in Cork, the county board has agreed to meet with a joint hurling and football delegation, but it’s not yet certain if the hurlers want to pursue their claims separately from the footballers.
It has also emerged that the GAA appears willing to consider a massive increase in expenses to players. Driven by the Players Committee — a Croke Park backed organization unlike the rival and more militant Gaelic Players Association — it is possible that the mileage allowance for players could jump from 38 cents a mile to 60.
The boost to players could be introduced before the start of the National Leagues in February 2003 as just one of a series of proposals to improve relations between intercounty players and the games’ administrators before Sean McCague’s presidency ends in April.
With the Cork crisis likely to be resolved in the near future, the GPA’s annual general meeting, which is scheduled for the new year, could be an important barometer of this new atmosphere of player power. In fact, the GPA’s chief executive, Dessie Farrell, refused to rule out the possibility of strike action by his members for the national leagues if the Cork standoff fails to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
With officials in Cork now more conciliatory over nearly all of the players’ basic demands, it’s worth wondering why the county’s hurlers and footballers were pushed to take such drastic action in the first place.