Examiner Sports column, 29 November 2007.

March 27, 2008

29-11-2007
Michael Moynihan

Take
nothing for granted in new deal

AS ever, the devil is in the detail.
Yesterday’s announcement of the nuts and bolts of the administration of GAA player grants made for interesting reading. The first general sensation — relief the threat of strike action has been lifted — will soon subside, as dressing-room lawyers study the small print.

And they’ll find very interesting provisions, particularly the criteria for participation in the schemes. Whatever about managers or players, team trainers are going to have their hands full.

For instance, take the “player responsibilities”, which establish that players must “attend at least 80% of training sessions/matches … demonstrate improvement through regular fitness testing … strict adherence to anti-doping code… players who violate the code will not receive awards.”

Granted, that’s an admirable onus to put on players, but there hasn’t been time to establish agreed ground rules on what exactly constitutes improvement? Accordingly, a couple of alarm bells, while not exactly chiming out like Notre Dame, are tinkling gently in the background.

How is “improvement” going to be defined, when there seems to be more emphasis in the provisions on physical fitness than skills improvement, which is more difficult to define anyway?

Elsewhere, there are provisions for committees to oversee the fulfilment of criteria for the grant, but operational management of the system seems to fall on one man’s shoulders: the team trainer.

There may be some headaches ahead for the men who send county panellists on laps of the field as they seek to keep players improving, week on week — or rather, as they seek to prove that players are improving week on week.

We’re used to teams suffering a lull in national leagues when stamina takes precedence over skill, to the detriment of immediate results. Given the focus on fitness, is that likely to occur more often under the new dispensation as teams try keep the physical graph going up early in the season — to maintain eligibility for grants?

Expect the constitution of the Gaelic Trainers Association to slip through the letterbox of the Companies Office by first post Monday.

Though all parties recognise the amateur status of the GAA is not affected, accountants and financial service workers on inter-county teams may find themselves more popular due to another one of the criteria: “Any tax liability that might arise from these schemes is the responsibility of the individual player.”

That’s fair. But what may catch everyone’s eye is a later provision, where players… “commit to participate in an agreed level of coaching and games development work in their county on a voluntary basis… as part of an overall policy to promote increased participation in their sports.”

This is admirable as it establishes interaction between the sports’ biggest names and the most impressionable support. No objections there.

But it’s also admirably deft. There’s a clear inference here that the entire grant system could be justified as paying for coaching and games development work undertaken by inter-county players rather than paying for play per se.

Announcing an arrangement to put player involvement in coaching on a formal basis would have smothered at birth that long-running palaver about pay-for-play and professionalism by stealth. Nobody would object to players getting a few bob for training kids.

But while having a trump card for negotiation means you sometimes keep an ace up your sleeve, the GPA could have saved themselves months of adverse publicity if that had been their stated angle from the start.

Contact: michael.moyihan@examiner.ie

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