James Woodlock is heading up the CPA in Mid Tipperary.
Ahead of the official launch of the Club Players Association on January 9th provincial coordinator William Coleman is calling on Tipperary players to pledge their support to the CPA.
The structure of the Club Players Association is coming together smartly under the guidance of Gortnahoe-Glengoole’s William Coleman who is working in a voluntary capacity as both the Tipperary and Munster coordinator of the newly-inaugurated association.
Éire Óg Annacarty’s Ronan O’Brien will coordinate West Tipperary for the CPA and James Woodlock (Drom & Inch) leads the charge in Mid Tipperary while the coordinators for the South and North divisions will be named in due course. And, prior to the launch on January 9th William Coleman and company are working hard to raise awareness of the association and to encourage club players in Tipperary to register (for free) with the CPA.
“We are trying to get as many players involved as we can. The priority now is to get people signed up,” William Coleman told the Tipperary Star this week.
“There will be someone in touch with every club in the county to let them know what’s involved. I am hoping that the launch on the ninth of January will show people that it is up and running. We want meaningful change for club players in the country,” William Coleman said.
“That’s the main aim now: to try and get the awareness of it (the CPA) out there and let people know how they can help or how they can get involved. Some people know about it and some people don’t. We just need to raise that awareness about it, show people that it is up and running and show people that it is going to be a body which can help them to express their opinion and work to bring about meaningful change,” Coleman added.
WHAT IS THE CPA?
The CPA is a volunteer-led association which has been established to resolve the GAA fixtures crisis. It is committed to delivering a meaningful, unchangeable and balanced fixtures programme within the structure of a defined season for both club and inter-county players. Essentially, the CPA intends to represent the voice of the club player, to work to represent their interests and it will be officially launched at the Ballyboden St Enda’s GAA Club in Dublin on Monday, January 9th.
The CPA will campaign to ensure that inter-county players continue playing with their clubs and to ensure that inter-county players are made available to clubs for meaningful club fixtures. The CPA intends to engage in on-going dialogue with its members and represent the views of the playing body as effectively as possible. The association intends to work collaboratively with the GAA in order to arrive at mutually-beneficial solutions. The CPA does not wish to seek out confrontation, but the association will not rule out any tactic which may advance the overall objective of the club players group. It is widely hoped that strike action will not be required in order to force club fixture reform.
According to William Coleman the mission of the association is “to get an unchangeable, meaningful and balanced fixtures programme within a defined season for both club and county (players)”.
“First round fixtures tend to stick, but it’s anybody’s guess after that and it is dependent on the progress of each inter-county underage and senior team in hurling and football. So, that is the main aim: to provide a meaningful and balanced fixtures programme within a defined season. It is going to be a long road, but you have to make the start somewhere,” William Coleman explained to the Tipperary Star.
“I hope players can see that there is a possibility of this happening. A lot of players would say that things will never change - that’s the attitude that is there, but if people sign up and we build up a head of steam we can make things happen. We just need to get a bit of weight behind it, get things rolling and work with the GAA on it.”
Right now the CPA is focused on a single issue, but it is likely to expand its remit in due course.
“Once we get it set up properly and club players come behind it in each county there could be an option there to address (other) issues, but not until the bigger picture is fixed. If there was, for example, an issue in Tipp and 90 per cent of the players in the county were signed up it would make it easier to go and get stuck into an issue and see what you could do to protect players in terms of their welfare,” Coleman added.
Gortnahoe-Glengoole's William Coleman.
Right now the club fixtures programme smacks of the ridiculous. And, in terms of the fixtures crisis there is, at least, consensus: everyone agrees that the fixtures programme is not fit-for-purpose; it is heavily weighted toward an inter-county elite and the club player is suffering.
In such a two-tier association the club player has to find room to play meaningful games within the time period allowed by the inter-county elite. No sensible person would argue otherwise. Indeed, notable GAA figures like Pádraic Joyce (Galway), Aaron Kernan (Armagh) and Derek Kavanagh (Cork) have thrown their weight behind the CPA while Alan Brogan (Dublin), Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny), Kevin Cassidy (Donegal) and Tomas Ó Sé (Kerry) have used their media profiles to highlight the plight of the club player.
Club players are now accustomed to battling hard during the spring before enduring a protracted wait during the months which are best suited to the actual playing of the game before finding themselves embroiled in a frantic race to be finished in time to meet provincial club deadlines.
Club players need to be catered for sensibly in terms of a programme of fixtures around which they can plan their lives. Indeed, it was a deep frustration with the situation, which emanated from his experience as Gortnahoe-Glengoole secretary and as a player, which motivated William Coleman to get involved with the newly-inaugurated CPA.
“I love playing and I love being involved in the club, but I just feel that it consumes me,” William Coleman told the Tipperary Star.
“There are ten and 11 months of the year gone. You’re not really stuck into it at any time of the year, but you are constantly aware that you have to be ready in case games come at you. You can’t plan your life. I would love to go hard at it for six or eight months of my year, take three or four months off and then be re-energized to go at it again. It just seems to be a constant drag and it is a drain on family life. I am constantly gone to this, that and the other in terms of meetings, matches and training.
“We are training monotonously - (in 2016) we trained for 12 weeks between games and you were expected to be there and be ready for challenge matches. It’s week-to-week and you don’t really know what you are doing. As much as you love the game it is frustrating.
“It would be great if there was a defined season for hurling. You could take a step back and take a break from it. I only finished being a selector with the (Gortnahoe-Glengoole) under-21s in the middle of December after the county final. I had been going since the first week in February when we started training with the intermediate team. And, there was something in between all the way,” William Coleman added.
DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
When Monaghan’s Declan Brennan first mooted the idea of creating a Club Players Association William Coleman was eager to roll up his sleeves and get involved. It is not his inclination to sit around and wait for someone else to do his fighting for him.
“When I heard about this (CPA) I wanted to get involved and make it happen rather than sit back and wait for it to happen. There are plenty of guys around that will give out and moan, but when it comes to getting their own sleeves rolled up, getting stuck in and going about trying to effect change by doing something positive to make it happen not too many of those guys are keen,” William Coleman told the Tipperary Star.
“The irony is that a lot of those guys say that they don’t have the time to do it. I am trying to point out that if it (the fixtures schedule) does get fixed you will have a lot more time to yourself than you do at the moment. Right now you are training for ten and 11 months of the year without having much meaningful activity, but that should change to a shorter season with more meaningful activity and involve a lower training-to-games ratio. The amount of training to (meaningful) games that we had last year was absolutely crazy.”
Players are constantly fed a staple diet of platitudes which emphasize the point that the club is, for example, the “lifeblood of the association”.
Every year noises are made about the significance of the club and how something needs be done about the club fixtures farce. Indeed, successive GAA presidents have publicly recognized the seriousness of the problem. There was even a special congress dedicated to the issue in 2006, but the problems persist.
The platitudes need to stop and although someone like William Coleman is frustrated by token comments made he is sensible enough to realise that part of the blame rests with the club playing body itself.
“It is a small bit (frustrating), but I think that club players have let themselves be forgotten,” William Coleman told the Tipperary Star.
“They need to get involved, have their voice heard and make that change. That’s the way you make things happen.
“I think, personally, that the County Board does a pretty good job in trying to run the competitions that they have in, basically, the time that is handed back to them when all the inter-county competitions come to an end. You are left with a very small amount of time to wedge in club competitions. It is a hard job. It’s hard for anybody to make that fit because it just does not fit,” Coleman said.
“The inter-county season needs to be shortened - that would free up a bit of time to run the competitions properly. I think it is mad, personally, that it takes an All-Ireland series at inter-county level eight or nine months to run off and then, when that is done, we expect the club competitions to be run off in four or five weeks. It is a bit ironic that they can take so long to run one and then expect another to be blitzed off in the time left over,” William Coleman added.
Just consider, for a moment, the trajectory of the 2016 Tipperary Water County Senior Hurling Championship.
Thurles Sarsfields launched their campaign against Borris-Ileigh on Saturday, April 16th and played their sixth game in that championship 184 days later when beating Kiladangan in the county final on October 16th.
The senior club hurling championship in Tipperary featured 85 games in all. Forty-one games were played during the group phase of the competition between Saturday, April 9th and Sunday, May 8th - therefore 48 per cent of the games in the competition were played in a four-week period before the group stage was completed with one outstanding contest taking place on May 27th.
From Friday, May 27th to Sunday, June 26th 15 games were played in the respective senior divisional championships and the month of July featured eight more games while no senior club championship contests or any sort were played in August.
Please note that no county senior hurling championship game was played in June, July or August - the months associated with the conditions most suitable to the actual playing of hurling.
The month of September brought the divisional series (32 games in all) to a conclusion with nine contests taking place between Wednesday, September 7th and Sunday, September 18th before the county championship returned on Sunday, September 25th and concluded with a race to the finish which featured 11 games in 21 days.
The actual structure of the club championship in Tipperary does not help matters, but neither does an inter-county series which saw Michael Ryan’s hurlers play one game in May, one game in June, one game in July, one game in August and one game in September.
CLUB PLAYERS HAVE THE POWER
No one, it could be argued, is to blame for allowing the club fixtures crisis to develop, but the clubs themselves.
The clubs, and by extension the club players, retain huge power. Indeed, the club players were forgotten, in a sense, because they allowed themselves to be forgotten since the club players make up almost 98 per cent of the entire playing population.
So, should club players decide to flex their muscle in a real way in order to wrestle back control there is only going to be one result. As such the potential influence of a body like the CPA is huge.
“Exactly,” agreed William Coleman.
“The question has been asked would the CPA ask the players to strike. It’s not something that they would want to do, but if it has to be done it’s not something that is going to be ruled out if it can help to achieve the overall objective. But we want to work with the GAA to come up with some sort of agreement that works. It is a big one to crack, but once we get all the club players behind it and work to make that change it will get it off the ground.”
The argument has been made that the CPA will not be able to progress their campaign without the support of the inter-county players (Gaelic Player Association members), but William Coleman is not calling for the support of the Tipperary inter-county players, for instance, since, he believes, it is in their interests, as club players, to support the work of the Club Players Association.
“A county player is a club player at the end of the day,” William Coleman explained.
“You are a club player before you get involved with the county and you are a club player when you finish up with the county. I don’t see why they would not be for it. I think it is a long season for them too to keep going for as long as they do. I think a lot of county players would want a shorter season at inter-county level and then come back to a proper club season.”
FORK IN THE ROAD
The GAA’s club players are looking for respect and a sense of fair play - it could be argued that the disregard for the club player is that which rankles most acutely amongst the playing population. Indeed, the CPA campaign could, ironically enough, work to remind the GAA of its roots. The club game, after all, is the cake and the inter-county game represents the icing.
There is, of course, no easy solution to the fixtures crisis, but the issue must be addressed.
GAA director general Páraic Duffy referred to the “beauty of the club” in his 2016 annual report before remarking that “the choices we have made and the practices we have allowed to develop have led us to a point in the association’s development where we need to ask ourselves a fundamental question about our essential values and about what is the association’s most important work”.
“For me, that work begins with the club,” Páraic Duffy wrote.
The Gaelic Athletic Association, it would appear, has reached a crossroads. The future of the association will be defined by the choices made. And, it looks likely that the CPA will play a huge role in shaping that future since the club fixtures schedule issue strikes at the very heart of what the GAA is about or, rather, should be.
JOINING THE CPA
Why not make it a new year’s resolution to pledge your support to the Club Players Association?
You can become a member of the CPA for free by registering on gaaclubplayers.com. You can also follow @ClubPlayerAssoc on Twitter or like Clubplayersassoc on Facebook. Alternatively you can email all enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.