The reaction to the GPA’s decision to publicly back a Yes vote in next Friday’s referendum was naturally mixed given the context but it was certainly weighted in favour of the Association taking the position.
While some players may have been uncomfortable with the stand, it is worth re-iterating that the margin in a vote among county players was six to one in favour of the GPA publicly supporting the Yes Campaign. This democratic endorsement prefaced the Association’s action.
What is also worth reiterating is how adopting a public position on this subject fits with the GPA’s culture of developing and promoting a new cohort of leaders in Irish society.
Watching how players like Rory O’Carroll, Kevin Reilly, Ger Brennan, Rob Hennelly, Kieran Bergin, Colm Begley, Rob Hennelly, Luke Kelly, Aidan O’Shea, Conor Cusack and Eamonn McGee and others put themselves forward, on both sides of the debate, is a realisation of long-held ambition of the GPA.
If we accept that players are powerful role models in our society, then we must encourage them to actively participate in public/social debate. What the past three weeks have shown is that an increasing number of players wish to be heard as well as seen.
Of course the naysayers had their response but the attitude to the players was largely positive and criticism came across as rather patronising, a sense that a player’s world view shouldn’t stretch beyond the white lines. However, not only did players engage, they were central. When the referendum campaign was being summarised this week the images of Ger Brennan, Conor Cusack and Rory O’Carroll were everywhere.
And that emphasis on county footballers and hurlers playing a leading role in society away from the game is in total sync with the core activity and values of the GPA.
The Players Association is committed to supporting every county player with his personal development off the field of play. The practical manifestation of that for players who engage with GPA programmes is quite profound.
Formally supporting individual players on a journey of self-discovery and ultimately career ambition is something very new in the world of GAA – the Player Development Programme is only coming to the end of its first five-year cycle. For sure when basic requirements for players are neglected it can impact on this ambition and there can be no tolerance for any slippage in terms of the supports county players require to commit at the top level.
However, players who engage with the GPA will be encouraged to follow their dreams, helped to realise their potential off the field of play, supported with education, life skills, career development and ultimately helped in leading a more fulfilling life despite the serious demands required to perform at an elite level in sport.
A county career, as all-consuming as it is, is a short period in an individual’s life and it is time that should not be spent at the expense of personal growth.
A recent text request to players asking for volunteers to support a new children’s charity partnership with the GPA yielded a flood of offers from county players.
What the referendum debate has shown once again is that matters of personal concern to players do not have to be ignored because you wear a county jersey. It is a most welcome and encouraging development.
Who knows the next Jack Lynch may be emerging.