You could foresee the threatened withdrawal of the Government ‘grants’ for inter-county GAA players a long way back.
Given grudgingly in the first place, and watered down at €2.5m all-in, the funding for the season just gone is only being dispersed now, with players having filled out their forms for mileage and other expenses. (That’s the only way they could claim it.)
Sports Minister Martin Cullen, who has the frustrating habit of being landed with controversies not his making, said last week that the availability of money for county panels in 2009 can’t be guaranteed given the serious economic downturn. Two constituents (and heroes) of his, John Mullane and Ken McGrath, have this week expressed their disappointment at the real possibility of the fledgling scheme being discontinued due to budget cutbacks, having already accepted a ‘patriotic’ 8 percent reduction ahead of next season.
The GPA’s real misfortune has been the overlap between the various Cork debacles and the fact that Dónal Óg Cusack is chairman of the players’ body. It was probably no coincidence this week that Sean Potts was sent out to bat on their behalf.
The GAA issued a statement to the effect that the removal of the money would be a retrograde step. But be under no illusion that there are many within the association, at national and local level, who’ll be privately pleased at the prospect. (The labyrinthine lengths to which players have to go to claim the cash makes you suspect that it’s not being made easy for them to collect it to say the least.)
Where the Government’s argument falls down is this: in the grand scheme of things the amount in question is peanuts. Plus, as Ken McGrath points out, in the current climate players’ livelihoods are in even greater jeopardy because of their devotion to the county cause. Time is money and every hour spent away from work playing/training with the county is bobs in Croke Park’s bank account and pennies out of players’ pockets. The level of funding the GPA settled for (probably thinking of it as an initial instalment) was mere compensation for the consequences top hurlers and footballers pay for their commitment. Taking that token handout away at the time they need it most is asking for trouble.