Paying players - a serious debate lies ahead

Since I started attending annual GAA Congress I have witnessed many historic decisions being made, writes Nickey Brennan.

Since I started attending annual GAA Congress I have witnessed many historic decisions being made, writes Nickey Brennan.

A lot of the issues were contentious with fractious debates taking place. The deletion of Rule 27 (the Ban); restructuring of the inter-county championships; the temporary opening of Croke Park to rugby and soccer; the recognition of the GPA and the awarding of a contract to Sky Sports were some of the more high-profile issues.

Those opposed spoke of the consequences the proposals would have. Many of the arguments against came from sincere individuals who spoke passionately.

The changes were made, mostly it must be acknowledged, with significant approval from delegates. It is fair to say that the doom and gloom often mentioned did not materialised.

Now further change is being mooted. This time I suspect the debate will be far more fractious.

The issue of professionalism in the GAA was in the headlines last week again when former Dublin manager, Pat Gilroy, spoke in terms of its introduction in the GAA.

The background to Gilroy’s comments concerned a report published last week. The Philip Lee Sport Report indicated that 73% of adults it interviewed believe the GAA should be paying some level of compensation to players.

Well-known sports journalist, Eugene McGee, spoke of the seemingly inevitable move towards some form of professionalism in the GAA.

Interestingly, the GPA is opposed to professionalism and has consistently lauded the GAA’s amateur ethos since it was granted formal recognition.

Any talk of professionalism always creates major headlines. The debate thus far has failed to recognise the impact such a move would have on how the ’Association might operate in a professional environment.

Believe me, that impact would be considerable.

How, or indeed when, the issue of professionalism lands on the Congress agenda remains to be seen.

In the interests of getting the wider GAA organisation to consider the implications it may be no harm for a motion to appear on the Congress agenda sooner rather than later.

The current Dublin football manager, Jim Gavin, was also in the headlines last week when he spoke of changes to the structure of the inter-county football championship.

This particular topic has garnered plenty of headlines also and it would appear that many favour a change, though not necessarily doing away with the provincial championships.

The consequence of any change, though, would most likely see less interest in the provincial championship. That would inevitably impact on the income of the provincial councils.

I do not have any issue with a wide-ranging debate of the provincial football championships, but it must spell out the implications for the continuance of the ’Councils and the current provincial structures.

Kilkenny folk may feel this topic is of little interest, but that would not be the case. The Leinster senior football championship provides a significant income stream for the Leinster Council. Kilkenny has been a significant benefactor of the ’Council’s funding down the years.

There is a clear divergence of views in the GAA on restructuring the inter-county football championships.

Many see change as necessary to ignite what for them is a boring competition that generates little interest until the latter stages.

That argument has validity but would the provincial funds currently seeping down to counties, including Kilkenny, still be available?

Perhaps a more important question is whether a restructured competition would generate more or less money than the current combined provincial and qualifier structure?

Some may argue that a decision should not be influenced by financial returns. The money question cannot be ignored.