The GPA announced today that its members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action involving upcoming inter-county games. With the NFL not due to start until the first week in February next year, the strike action - if it goes ahead at all - will impact on the traditional provincial pre-season softening-up tournaments. What? No 2008 FBD League? How will we survive at all at all?
This issue is cloaked in a number of layers of gombeenism - what do you get when you cross the worst of the Fianna Fail party with the worst of the GAA for Chrissakes? - with one set of gombeens (that's the lot on the Government side) wanting to give the dough to the players but not wanting to embarrass the other lot - that's the crowd on the GeeeeAaaaah (as Eugene McGee tends to refer to them) side - by making it appear as if it is "pay for play" money. Of course it isn't, Your Honour, it's a tax credit for the bulk purchase of Wintergreen or its an infrastructure grant for shinpads or a contribution towards the attendance at a verbals awareness seminar or . . . It's not for nothing that RTE's Sean O'Rourke put it to former GeeeeAaaaah President Sean Kelly on lunchtime radio today that the way in which the proposed payments were being characterised smacked of "shamateurism". Too right, Sean. It's not only contraception that requires an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
The whole issue of the amateur status is a thorny one for the GAA but it's one that has to be faced at some point. Managers have been paid in one way or another for years (not all of them but a good portion of them) and for a long time players in different counties have been looked after in ways that don't accord to the pure virginal whiter-than-white notion of amateurism. Let's be clear: the players are the ones who are attracting record crowds to GAA venues and, in the 21st century, it's unrealistic to expect them to continue to bust their guts to do so for no reward.
It's not as if the proposal is for inter-county players being given lavish public sector-esque salaries (with jobs for life, guaranteed benchmarking payments and defined benefit pensions). The development will not lead to GAA versions of David Beckham poncing around providing the entertainment. We're unlikely to see any inter-county players turning up at McHale Park or O'Moore Park or even Croke Park in their Ferraris. What's on offer is only a small token in recognition of the enormous commitment and sacrifice that inter-county players make in the modern era.
Will the strike happen? Well, if the GPA really wanted to put pressure on the GAA they could have taken a leaf out of their brudders in the transport sector. Now there's the lads who know a thing or two about striking. A 95% vote in favour of a strike almost three months before the real (i.e. NFL) action starts is hardly a hang-tough opening gambit and smacks more of Aer Lingus pilots than it does de Dubbelin Bus drivers. Expect a messy compromise before the strike notice expires but don't - whatever you do - mention the dreaded words "pay for play".