Statement on behalf of Matthew O’Hanlon
I, like many players, read what GAA Director General Tom Ryan had to say to county boards this week with interest. I have read the reaction to what he had to say and what GPA CEO Tom Parsons has had to say this week too, and I find some of it hard to fathom. So, I want to make some points for clarity.
Last weekend players took a stand that we would not engage in match day media activity around games. It was a small gesture to highlight player frustration over the ongoing issues around squad charters. It had minimal impact on fans, if any. The GAA’s response was to unilaterally, without the agreement of players, try to impose a squad charter on their terms.
The GAA have designed this charter, by their account, with player welfare in mind. Again, let’s be clear on this. Last December through to March the GAA came to the negotiating table wanting to retain the cost saving measures players had agreed to during the Covid crisis. Now however, language around player welfare had been conveniently added in.
At the time the GAA negotiating team put forward a case that 50 cent per mile for 3 sessions a week and a cap of 32 players was all they could afford. Two months later they posted a profit for 2021 of €13.5 million. Was that an honest way to negotiate?
That brings me specifically to player welfare. The GAA are now willing to cover 4 sessions per week at 65c. That came about because last week the GPA let them know we would be communicating with all players. 3 sessions were then moved to 4 over the course of 24 hours. Surely if player welfare was the concern here such a move, adding 33% to a training load, would be unthinkable.
Following on from that, the GAA now want to enforce a charter where 4 sessions are agreed at 65c per mile and then anything above that will need to be negotiated locally by players with county boards. In other words, county boards can allow as many sessions as they want – the GAA would be openly allowing unlimited training, but players would be financially penalised because the GAA accept a reduced mileage rate for sessions above 4.
This is what some commentators are accusing the GPA of wanting. It’s hard to believe that when Tom Parsons refers to training once or ten times a week to emphasise a point, it is being portrayed that the GPA would be happy to allow such over training. It’s spreading and creating a false picture – deliberately.
To put an end to that I’ll say this. Back as far as January, separate to the charter negotiations, the GPA’s Player Welfare Manager Colm Begley discussed a working document with the GAA’s Sports Science Group looking at the area of contact hours. In it, recommendations are made on the required number of sessions a player would train at each stage of the season. Colm will be presenting to the GAA group on March 30th on this matter, an arrangement again made back in January. This is with a view to getting expert scientific and medical input to add to that already gathered by the GPA.
This policy concept was proposed to the GAA charter negotiating team on December 16th via a memo as a means of using sports science to identify the required number of sessions per week as it varies from pre-season to in-season and from Rookie to late career players. It would not just be done by picking an arbitrary number like 3 out of the air and then moving that to 4 at a whim last week.
For clarity, the working document outlines situations where 5 sessions a week might be needed in pre-season. During the playing season and a de-load week for example, sports science indicates 3 sessions a week is adequate for performance.
As part of the negotiations with the GAA, the GPA proposed that this is the policy that should be used as the means of regulating sessions, rooted in sports science and with player welfare actually to the fore. It’s our view that all parties, players, managers and county boards, should then sign off on a Contact Hours Policy that indicates the optimum number of sessions allowable for all players on the squad. The mileage rate and claimable expenses by players cannot be the mechanism to do this; it’s a point of principle.
Players are not looking to be paid expenses for unlimited sessions; they are just looking for all squad members (not just the 32) to be reimbursed for all the sessions they take part in at the same rate of 65c. Players, through the GPA, have proposed how to properly regulate sessions using scientific expertise. That should be signed off by all and policed by the GAA to ensure County Boards and managers are adhering to it.
Players are still open and willing to go back to the negotiating table based on the above. It would be fair, based on expertise and would likely not cost the GAA anything more than what they are trying to impose.
The key difference – players would not be used by the GAA as a cost control measure. If they actually have player welfare in mind, then it’s a no-brainer to use a Contact Hours Policy.
Revert to the 2019 charter and let’s sort this out with a Contact Hours Policy initiative as proposed by the players body in December of 2021.
Matthew O’Hanlon, GPA National Executive Committee Co-Chair & Wexford Hurler