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Who does the Gaelic Players Association Represent?

The GPA is the officially-recognised representative body for inter-county hurlers and footballers. Founded by players in 1999, the GPA supports over 2,100 current county players and a growing number of former players through the Player Development Programme.

What is the GPA Player Development Programme?

The PDP is comprehensive suite of services designed to assist players with all aspects of their off-field lives and personal development. The services include a personal development coaching programme, career development supports, business start-up programme, educational scholarships advice and advocacy for undergraduate and postgraduate studies, leadership development, counselling services for those suffering emotional distress, a residential treatment support for  those suffering serious addiction, cardiac screening, medical surgery support, an enhanced injury scheme and hardship support.

GPA Programmes – Who benefits?

Research has consistently shown that athletes with a balanced lifestyle are more likely to achieve sporting and personal goals, and to cope with stresses that can be encountered on a periodic basis throughout their careers.  As a result, the GPA established a comprehensive Player Development Programme to meet the needs of members.  Every county player has access to the same level of service from the Programme.  However, in the experience of the GPA, better organised squads are more engaged with the Player Development Programme and uptake is commensurately higher in those squads. Promoting programmes and encouraging active engagement is of paramount importance to the GPA.

The issue of why some counties have a higher rate of engagement with programmes was addressed at the recent AGM where the importance of players taking responsibility for their own off-field personal development was highlighted. This is a message delivered to members through all communication platforms on a regular basis. All squads are visited by GPA officers during the year; receive regular GPA communications while training is offered to all reps at the annual GPA Reps Day.

1,945 players have availed of our elective services over the past three years of the Development Programme. This is where players specifically engage with programmes such as personal development coaching, career development, business start-up, personal counseling, educational support and other such services.

However, in addition ALL county players receive non-elective services such as cardiac screening, enhanced injury cover and mouth guards (footballers). Every county player also receives an annual Government grant which was vigorously campaigned for by the GPA to bring about parity of esteem with other elite level athletes supported by the State. This funding is distributed through the GPA directly to players to assist with the significant costs associated with preparing and playing the game at the top level which are not covered by the traditional county board 'mileage expenses'.

The following is the number of players in each squad who have availed of elective services up to October 2014 (this doesn't include the general supports received by all players – government grants, enhanced injury scheme, cardiac screening, mouth guards etc)

What about GPA governance?

Please see our page on Governance

 GPA Officers

The full list of GPA Officers can be viewed on our Governance section.

GPA National Executive Committee

The full list of members of the GPA NEC can be viewed on our Governance section.

 What about GPA financial governance?

Information on the Fiancial Governance of the GPA is in our Governance section.

How many people does the GPA employ and how big is the membership?

The GPA employs a staff of 11, 10 full-time and one part-time. Our Officers, National Executive Committee, Finance Committee, Remuneration Committee and working groups who total 35 are all volunteers.

Many of the programmes the GPA provides for players such as career development, business start-up, scholarship support, are delivered in-house while personal development coaching, counselling, educational advice are provided externally across the country.

The GPA represents 2,100 current playing members. This is one of the largest current athlete memberships of any players association across Europe or indeed in the world.  We also have a growing former player constituency which is supported in various aspects of their own lives. By comparison the Professional Footballers Association in the UK has a staff of 60. The Professional Cricketers Association have approximately  450 current playing members – a fifth of what the GPA is dealing with – and is supported by 17 full-time and three part-time staff.

The GPA Development Programme is highly relevant in supporting elite amateur players who are not earning salaries from their sports careers but are managing the challenges associated with a ‘dual career’- their career in sport and their career/education/life outside of sport.

How is the GPA funded?

Annually nearly 80 percent of GAA funding is generated by the inter-county game through sponsorship, broadcast rights and gate receipts – and it is roughly the same percentage that is redistributed throughout the GAA at all levels.  The contribution made by the county player to the commercial success of the county game cannot be underestimated as indeed the importance of the county game to the entire Association. Unlike his counterpart in professional sports, the county player is not paid for his endeavours, the entertainment value he provides and the contribution he makes to the social fabric of this country. The amateur ethos of the Association is the bedrock on which the GAA has flourished. That principle is acknowledged in the official recognition agreement between our players and our administrators. The independence of the GPA and the requirement to provide funding to support our top players through the GPA Player Development Programme for the contribution those players make to the commercial success of the GAA, is also recognised.

This year the annual donation made by the GAA was €1.875 million; this funding is provided to operate and administer the Player Development Programme.

Additionally, funds are raised through the GAA/GPA Joint Venture Scheme which helps supplement the Development Programme.

Due to the growing demand from more and more county players for assistance with their lives off the field, there is a significant challenge in funding the growth of these programmes and building capacity within the organisation which enables the GPA to meet this demand and ensure the continued delivery of vital support to county players.

Why does the GPA engage in fundraising?

As with all non-profit organisations, with increased demand for services the GPA needs to look various different channels to support its work. The more players engage with GPA programmes and experience successful outcomes the more demand increases and the more revenue is required to fund this growth.

One example of this demand is the level of support provided to student members; the GPA has distributed nearly €2.5 million worth of scholarships since the Education Programme was introduced in 2010. Personal coaching, cardiac surgery, residential care for players suffering from mental health issues or various addictions, former players requiring support for knee and hip replacements who have no private health insurance  are only some of the services that the GPA provides for members. This level of service requires substantial funding, and the GPA is committed to ensuring that a growing number of players can continue to access these levels of support.

The GPA decided to initiate a fundraising campaign at home through corporate support and abroad via philanthropic contributions. Like many other Irish organisations the GPA looked to seek support from the Irish American community. The GPA has been working very successfully with our supporters in US for the past three years to develop a strong network to help fund our services and to assist in the promotion of our games to a new audience.

That support has made a tangible difference to the lives of many players and is becoming increasingly important in the future development of the organisation.  We are extremely grateful to all those individuals who are supporting our work on behalf of county players.

 The ‘Club Fixture Crisis’ 

While this is strictly a matter for the GAA, the Players Association is, nonetheless, consistently questioned about the matter. 

All GPA members are first and foremost club players, and share the concerns of poorly scheduled club fixture programmes. However, it is important to note that clubs do have control of their own destiny. Contrary to the misconception that club players are ‘voiceless’ the truth is that every club and club player in Ireland is represented at county board level. Each county board is responsible for its own club programme. If club players raise concerns through their executive and county board delegate, then those concerns should be aired constructively where they can be acted upon – at the county board. It is at this forum that club fixtures are compiled and managed. 

This is where most can be done for the clubs and their players in terms of scheduling etc. Clubs and club players must realise this and, if interested enough, make it work for them. Each county is unique and has different issues regarding their club games schedule. But it is here at the county level that a structured approach to identifying the specific problems and advocating viable solutions must happen. It is widely recognized that some counties have made great strides with their fixtures programme, while others have not.

In the words of Denis Walsh, one of the most respected GAA correspondents in the country and an active club administrator; “Change from the top down hasn’t worked. The only way to make this (club fixture crisis) better is from the bottom up. Clubs have the power to hold their county boards to account on this issue. The have failed to do so. That is their fault.”

As for the GPA influencing positive change within GAA – it was part of the agreement between both Associations that the GPA would engage constructively on all player-related issues. This is what players had campaigned for when looking for official recognition over many years.  This now includes player representation on all GAA decision-making bodies including fixture programming, rule changes, insurance groups and medical groups. Players never had any representation prior to the GAA/GPA Agreement, now their views are an integral part of the process of delivering change. 

 Why does the GPA not represent club players?

It is important that there is no confusion about this recurring theme. No players association in the world represents their playing body at all levels and Gaelic games are no different. County players are separately supported through a Development Programme in specific recognition of their commercial importance and significance to the GAA in three main areas - the sale of sponsorship deals, broadcast rights and gate receipts. The GAA is unique in the world of sport in that it does not pay its elite tier players. However, the GAA, through an agreement with the GPA, provides funding to support these players with their personal development off the field of play. The level of funding needed to extend programme support to over 100,000 players, all operating at different levels, would be implausible. Relevant issues pertaining at club level such as injury scheme payments are matters for the club committee and county officers. All club players have representation through their executive and county board officer and need to engage with those administrators in terms of influencing desired change.

Commercial Activity – Why are high profile players featured predominantly?

National player appearances promoting commercial partnerships, games, events, social responsibility initiatives usually feature high profile county players. However, it is a misconception to confuse this activity with GPA’s core work around the Development Programme as they are completely unrelated. Brands and sponsors who engage with the GAA seek players with the higher profiles from the higher profile teams. This is true of sponsorship and marketing in all sports. The PR agencies, media and other interested parties demand high profile players, usually those still actively involved in competition.

The GPA uses various players to promote our work and campaigns. When promoting our services, players who have been through the programmes are generally those that are featured – there is no bias, no discrimination – those who engage with programmes are central to the story.

Mental Health – Why is it so important to the GPA?

The GPA Personal Counselling Service and member helpline has been a cornerstone of the Development Programme since it commenced in 2010. This confidential service is provided on a 24 hour, 365 day a year basis. Over 250 players have already engaged with our team of counsellors with support being provided for a wide range of emotional issues, depression and addiction. The service has included full-time residential care for a number of players. However, following the tragic death of Galway hurler Niall Donoghue by suicide in 2013 the GPA initiated a powerful internal campaign to promote emotional health and wellbeing. The award winning 'WeWearMore' campaign has been very successful both in terms of educating players about the importance of sharing emotional issues and coping with distress as well as promoting mental health in Irish society in general. A team of GPA mental health ambassadors including Conor Cusack, Alan O'Mara and Niall McNamee have been incredibly active all over the country.

Can former county players access GPA services?

Yes, all former county players can apply for support under the Player Development Programme. To date the GPA has assisted former players with back-to-education support, career changes, assisting return to employment after a lay-off, personal counselling and a number of medical procedures. Benevolent funding is provided as part of a wider support process for those experiencing serious difficulties in their lives. 

What about the so-called weaker hurling counties?

Hurlers from the Ring, Rackard and Meagher counties are entitled to the same level of support under the Development Programme as all other competing counties (see figures above). The GPA has always promoted the connection between the various hurling tiers through our Hurling Twinning Programme, a model subsequently adopted by the GAA as part of their hurling promotion initiative. The GPA has provided a detailed submission to the GAA’s 2020 Committee on Hurling Development as well as being active in promoting the debate about Team Ulster and other amalgamated teams to provide a pathway to elite games for all current and future members.

How does the GPA communicate with its members?

The GPA harnesses a number of different channels to communicate with internal and external stakeholders. These include SMS, ezines, press releases, mainstream media, publications, website, video and direct engagement. However, for the current playing demographic, particularly younger players, social media is increasingly providing the communication platforms of choice.

As in all other walks of life the advent of social media has empowered players to control and promote their own profile publicly while providing ready-made cost-free communications groups for panels. Young players in particular are unlikely to read a newspaper column or article unless it appears in their Twitter, Whatsapp or Facebook timelines. As a result, GPA activity, programme details, campaigns, social responsibility work, player promotion, commercial updates, news and opinion are now increasingly conveyed through social media platforms – primarily Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Feedback suggests that this medium is the most effective in reaching the Association’s membership. All of this activity is measureable and can be analyzed in terms of reach and efficiency.

While there are issues with social media, particularly around reputation management and moderation, mainstream media now harnesses these platforms both to promote its own content and to convey news gathered from player activity on social media. Consequently players and the GPA will frequently respond to public issues arising using social media as the principal platform. 

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