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'Do they really know the insight of what happens with players that go and get help?'

Ex-Waterford player Wayne Hutchinson has defended the GPA and praised the work of the players’ body.

Wayne Hutchinson will be in action for Ballygunner in Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final.
Wayne Hutchinson will be in action for Ballygunner in Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final.
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

THE WORK OF the GPA in helping inter-county players that encounter personal struggles has been lauded by former Waterford senior defender Wayne Hutchinson and he has rejected criticism of the organisation as elitist.

Hutchinson has previously lined out for the Waterford hurlers and footballers, while this Saturday he will be a key component of the Ballygunner team aiming to book an All-Ireland SHC club final place when they face Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks in Thurles. 

Hutchinson and his brother JJ are part of the Ballygunner ranks, while his younger brother Dessie is a soccer player who returned home to Waterford FC last summer after being contracted with English Premier League club Brighton.

Wayne has spoken at length in the past about the mental health struggles he has endured and is keen to stress the positive array of services offered to players by the GPA, contrasting that with other sporting bodies in Ireland.

“In my book the GPA have a fantastic service. There’s a lot of people out there in the media who would say the GPA are only for the top teams.

“I think the commentators that are making these comments really, I’m throwing the question out to them do they know the actual real work that goes on behind the scenes? Do they really know the insight of what happens with players that go and get help from GPA? I don’t know the answer to that question.

“But the GPA have so many services that they can offer players. If you want to get advice, you must actually have the ownership of yourself to go look for these services.

“I know that they do great help with a lot of players around the whole area of mental health, they’ve private counselling services that players can go to. They’ve fantastic education opportunities for players (and) a fantastic personal development programme that is there for players who want to enhance their careers.

“My brother Dessie in a bit of a transitional period at the moment. He went to Brighton & Hove Albion when he was 16 and he was on three separate contracts there. Then he decided to go back to Waterford, the bit of connection to home and Waterford were going well in the Premier Division in League of Ireland.

Dessie Hutchinson and Joel Coustrain Dessie Hutchinson (right) in action for Waterford FC against Shamrock Rovers last year. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I’m not too sure is he after walking away from it completely but he just needs a bit of headspace to discover what he really wants to do. The FAI have a lot to look at too in regard to the amount of players that go overseas, in regard to the amount of players that return.

“When players return, really what do they have? I know from a personal perspective the GPA, if a player is struggling in a certain area, they have structures in place to actually help their players. I don’t know what the FAI have for players when they come back from England.”

Saturday will be an occasion to savour for Hutchinson and his Ballygunner team-mates, qualification for the All-Ireland series achieved after a long-awaited Munster crown was delivered in November.

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Wayne Hutchinson celebrates the final whistle with JJ Hutchinson Wayne and JJ Hutchinson celebrating Ballygunner's Munster club final victory last November. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It was a long time coming so we enjoyed the couple of days after it. I suppose there is only so much celebrating you can do, you have to get back to reality, just enjoy the moment. There comes a time to move on.

“We have been trying really since 2014 with this group. I wouldn’t expect anything else, they are a driven group of players. Sometimes it comes off for you and other years it mightn’t come off, but thankfully in 2018 it came together for us. It was a good feeling.”

Similar to a bunch of his club colleagues, Hutchinson is based in Dublin. He lined out for St Judes in 2015 and is currently involved coaching Whitehall Colmcilles but the lure of playing for Ballygunner draws him home.

A Croke Park outing on St Patrick’s Day is the prize he is striving for but appreciates the challenge that Ballyhale will pose.

“I’ve seen this Ballyhale team play. They’re a serious outfit. They blitzed Ballyboden. It’s going to take a good team to stop them.

“Even though it is Kilkenny and Waterford there is a feeling around that it is a local club game. From club to club is only a 30 minute commute or drive really. You only have the bridge in Waterford separating the two clubs really.

“They’d know a lot about us, we would know a lot about them, in particular our county players versus their county players. We obviously have played them down through the years in challenge games. This is our first time to meet them in club championship hurling. They have been in this position before, we haven’t so this is new territory for us.”

Following a tough Six Nations opening defeat to England, Joe Schmidt will look to regroup against a dangerous Scotland side. This week, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey are joined by Bernard Jackman to assess the damage of last weekend and look ahead to the clash in Murrayfield:

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Fintan O'Toole

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