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'We don't accept that changes can be made without the voice of the players' - GPA chief Flynn

Paul Flynn talks fixture changes, player expenses, rising demands and staying amateur as his reign as CEO of the GPA begins.

New GPA CEO Paul Flynn
New GPA CEO Paul Flynn
Image: GPA

IMPROVING THE FIXTURES calendar and sorting out player expenses are two of Paul Flynn’s main priorities in his new role as CEO of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

Flynn held his first media briefing as the new figurehead of the inter-county players’ body in the Buswells Hotel today where he also presented the GPA’s 2017 annual report.

The Dublin footballer worked as secretary on the GPA’s National Executive Committee for the last three years and replaces Dermot Earley, who stepped down as chief executive in January.

Flynn said he was “honoured” to take the role and outlined his vision, covering a number of key issues relating to the inter-county game.

FIXTURES

Flynn confirmed the GPA are part of a group involving the GAA, Club Players Association (CPA) and Higher Education Committee that is currently reviewing the fixtures calendar.

“There’s a lot of issues we have to sort out together (with the GAA) in particular around fixtures,” he said. “It’s not going to get sorted by one organisation in isolation, by us or them on their own. We have been lobbying hard with the GAA on this issue.

“We’ve already been in discussion with the CPA and they’re also part of this committee that’s being set-up. It’s about getting everybody in the room.

“We have to sort out this fundamental issue together and it’s important to have everybody’s voice heard, including the Higher Education Committee, because it’s something that’s top of the agenda list at the moment.

“Our membership are the inter-county players across both codes and all counties, but they’re playing club and college as well. We represent these guys and we want to come to a solution but it’s important a solution is made with all key stakeholders in the same room.

“We want to be at the top table for all decisions like this. We have to be at the top table for all these decisions. We don’t accept that changes can be made without the voice of the players who are the guys going out there to represent their counties in these competitions.

Paul Flynn Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It’s of the utmost importance for myself going forward that we are at the decision table when any changes are being made to our championship. And as I said we lobbied hard with the GAA to be on a committee with regards to a review of the current championship structures which is an ongoing committee.”

The GPA is currently in the process of surveying its own membership to review the 2018 season and will present the findings to that review group and the CCCC in October.

“We are taking the findings of our survey, which is in a preliminary stage. We’ve had a great response to the survey so far, we’ve had over 500 respondents with a minimum of three from each squad so there’s a really good flavour of the whole membership.

“We’re going to leave that open for a number of weeks and in the middle of October we’re presenting the findings of that survey to this specified group within the GAA that has representatives from a number of different bodies. We’ll also present the findings to the CCCC. From that then, we’ll be hopefully looking to get some action.

“It’s feedback on games. It’s seperate to the ERSI report so it’s just on the season from a fixtures perspective.”

EXPENSES

Another sector Flynn plans to target is travel expenses for inter-county players.

“One of the key areas I will be going after in my role is around expenses,” he said.

“That is important to every one of the players up and down the country. We see the demands on students in particular, travelling up and down the country. They have to incur that expense and they may not get their expenses paid for a number of months thereafter.

“One of the highlights from the (ERSI) report for me was guys travelling from Dublin or a city down the country for county training in the evenings. I remember it clearly from when I was in college in DCU, lads from Donegal and Roscommon.

“You’d be struggling to get a few bob together to feed yourself throughout the week and these lads were travelling up and down and expenses were incurred on them because of that.

“It is something that’s very important to our membership and it’s something that’s very important to me. It’s something we’ll be going after right from day one.”

Launch of ESRI Report into Playing Senior Intercounty Gaelic Games Stephen Coen, Seamus Hickey and Seamus Flanagan at the launch of the recent ESRI report Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

DEMANDS

One of the GPA’s main challenges revolves around the increasing demands in the inter-county game. The recent ERSI report found that some players are spending up to 31 hours per week on inter-county commitments, while 40% of players admitted to not getting any time off from Gaelic games in 2016.

“It is a challenge,” said Flynn. “That is one of the key findings from the report – the time (players are putting in). One of the things coming out is players are saying they don’t have a long enough off-season.

“As of Wednesday, (it’s my) first week in the job. We were right in with Croke Park and we were talking about the report. So now there’s an action group being put in place with three people from the GPA, three people from the GAA, co-chaired and with terms of reference to have an action plan in place by the end of the year going forward to address a number of issues. And one of those is the time put in.”

GPA chairman Seamus Hickey added: “I don’t think I’d rule out anything, guidelines for training hours or things like that. To me it’s an open book. We have to focus on the sustainability of our games. If we’re committed to the model as it is, and we’re committed to the amateur ethos so long as out players tell us we are, then we need a model of sustainability.

“One of the main findings of the ERSI report was the motivation to play the game remains to represent your county and that pride of place. That was a huge positive to come out of that report and it shouldn’t get lost in the wider breadth of it.”

Michael Darragh Macauley celebrates with the Sam Maguire Source: James Crombie/INPHO

AMATEURISM

Despite the high demands on players, Limerick defender Hickey does not believe the inter-county game is on a slow march towards professionalism.

“(Staying amateur) can be done. It is done in other sports in other countries. We’re not entirely unique in having amateurs compete at a professional level. There are learnings that we take from other institutions, from world athletes, AFLPA, Rugby Players Ireland.

“We have a number of things in common with other sports that we try and learn from the whole time. It’s not black and white. We’re constantly working with what we have and then aiming for change when it feels appropriate.”

Flynn added: “We represent our membership and as long as our membership wants us to remain amateur, we’ll remain amateur. That’s ultimately it. It’s going to be the same for everything that we do across the board. The vision is going to come from the bottom.”

TWO-TIERED FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

On the prospect of a two-tiered structure coming into the All-Ireland SFC, Flynn stated: “It’s easy to say, what’s the view on a B championship? But it’s all about how it’s funded.

“Everybody wants an opportunity to be in the primary competition so it’s how it’s structured. We’ll have respondents from our survey, and we’ll drill into it then. You can’t just ask the question – because some people might not know if they’re going to be in the competition or not.

“I think initially, the appetite from all our players is that they’re in the main competition right from the start and they’re in the provincial competition and they’re able to go that route.

“I’m not messing when I say we’re representing the views of our members. We survey all our members, we have to take out the answers of the players actually affected by this and discuss it then.”

Niall Sludden and Darragh Foley Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

FINANCIAL REPORT

In terms of financial highlights from the GPA’s 2017 annual report:

  • There was an 18% increase in GPA revenue in 2017 which was matched by an 18% increase in expenditure.
  • The increase in revenue was largely down to a rise in fundraising income, which went from €679,554 in 2016 to €1,152,643 in 2017. The government grant the GPA received rose from €1,600,000 in 2016 to €2,300,000 in 2017, while GAA funding rose by €29,403 as part of the current agreement.
  • There was a 13% decrease in their staffing costs, which now represents 11% of overall expenditure. The GPA’s staff dropped from 12 people in 2016 to 11 in 2017. The total wage bill in 2017 was €689,319 – an average wage of €62,665.
  • 77% of their net revenues were directed to the player welfare and player development programmes.

“It was a positive financial year with continued growth,” Flynn said. “Very stable financial figures overall.

“We’ve an unprecedented demand at the moment for our services. The demand has never been greater.”

Flynn added that over 15,794 personal development programmes were delivered to 5,354 inter-county players across both codes. The programmes offered to players range from business start-up development, career development, education funding to personal counselling and cardiac screening.

“We’ll look to increase the engagement in some squads that may not have engaged as much as other squads have.”

Finally, when asked if his appointment as chief executive would affect his Dublin career, Flynn responded: “I’ve club championship tomorrow. I feel like we’re still in 2018. I’ve barely had a chance to breathe to be honest, which has been great.

“I’m going to enjoy club championship – hopefully we win it and get a good run at it anyway – and then when things settle down a bit I’ll have a bit more time to think. At the moment, I’m a current Dublin footballer and I’m just concentrating on things with the club at the moment.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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