Come off it Gerry, GAA players deserve what they get

I WAS pleased to see the Government and the GPA finalise a new two-year arrangement last week on the payment of grants to inter-county players, writes Nickey Brennan.

I WAS pleased to see the Government and the GPA finalise a new two-year arrangement last week on the payment of grants to inter-county players, writes Nickey Brennan.

The new agreement sees a 10% reduction from last year, understandable given the state of the economy. However, the amount now being paid is a significant reduction on the initial agreement.

There was a feeling in some quarters that the grants might be scrapped by the Government, but it was a wise move to leave them alone, albeit with a small reduction.

The background to the player grants lies in the tax rebate which professional sports people in this country benefit from when they retire.

Fair compromise

GAA players by virtue of their amateur status cannot enjoy similar benefits, so annual grants were seen as a fair compromise.

From the onset of the grants scheme, the GAA made it abundantly clear that if the Government ever annulled it the GAA would not fund it. The GPA accepted that position.

It is important though that the GAA has consistently supported the grants scheme and I have no doubt this was an important factor in the Government’s decision to continue with it for at least two more years.

The payments to the players are relatively modest, but not insignificant. Whatever one’s view of the scheme, no one should understate the economic importance of the GAA to this country.

I accept that the same applies to other sports but none can claim to deliver the countrywide economic benefit which the GAA provides.

And the primary providers of that sporting entertainment, week in and week out, are our inter-county players.

The payments of the grants were one of a number of issues which former Irish athlete, Jerry Kiernan took exception when interviewed last week.

Quite why the Kerryman had to comment so negatively on GAA matters is beyond me, but he has always come across as a man with a big chip on his shoulder.

Hard to compare

It is very difficult to compare team sports to the individual efforts of an athlete.

The former has the benefit of comrades to motivate and drive them on when the challenge is at its optimum.

Athletics is mostly an individual sport and I greatly admire the personal sacrifices and sheer determination of anyone who participates in any athletic activity.

Comparing the athleticism and fitness of such diverse sports and their participants is a futile exercise. His comments regarding the fitness levels of inter-county footballers were unnecessary and showed an ignorance of the game and the input of its players.

The most surprising aspect of this particular comment was that it came from a Kerryman.

Athletes of international standard are funded by the Irish Sports Council, and rightly so, given their personal commitments to their respective sports.

Most athletes also train full-time, so not surprisingly they put in many arduous hours in their respective disciplines every day.

GAA players work for a living with their sport fitting into any available leisure time. It thus makes no sense to compare the GAA sportsmen or women with international athletes.

Lack of appreciation

The notion proffered by Kiernan that the GAA should fund any grants scheme directly also shows a complete lack of appreciation at how the GAA disperses its funds throughout the organisation principally towards team expenses, coaching schemes and capital grants.

I could also mention the huge social impact which the GAA generates around the country, something that is proving ever so important at this time.

Kiernan’s comments made for good radio and sound bites, but do no favours whatsoever for his own sport of athletics.

I know of no GAA person who does not admire the personal sacrifices of men and women the length and breadth of this country who strive for excellence on the athletics tracks of the world.

Some of this country’s greatest sporting memories are of Irish athletes winning Olympic, World or European medals.

I am sure Kiernan’s comments are those of a disillusioned man who at the time of the interview felt that the GAA was a suitable target. They are best ignored.