This week, St Brigid’s GAA club from Dublin have been on the receiving end of heavy criticism for constructing a player contract for their Senior football team.
The player contract was initially leaked via Ewan Mc Kenna before it spread like wildfire. The image went viral across the web and caused an ongoing argument amongst those involved in the GAA.
Remember a time when GAA used to be fun, not farcical? Me too! Have a read of this from St Brigid's and try and keep your jaw from dropping. pic.twitter.com/Up4fHbCesF
— Ewan MacKenna (@EwanMacKenna) January 9, 2017
Mark Byrne is the current manager of the St Brigid’s senior football team, a position he held from 2010-2013, before returning this year. When asked did he solely create the contract, he responded that “myself, management and some senior players came up with this.”
Until now, Mark has refused to comment on the situation stating that the club has been contacted by various journalists looking to cause added controversy.
In our opening exchange with Byrne, he stated that “as a whole group they find it laughable” and it’s a “farcical” that it gained so much media attention.
It is important to note that the contract itself entails basic terms and conditions that the everyday club player would adhere to anyway if they aspire to be successful with their club.
What was your motivation for the contract- why not simply say it?
“People commenting on this don’t know our team, our club or the context of why and how we went about doing this. We have struggled the last few years. This year we decided to try change things up.
“We decided to train our two top teams together. We are lucky to have a Division 1 and Division 3 team. So, we have made an extended panel of 50 odd players, that we will run as one panel. As well as the 2nd team lads we also are lucky to have had a good minor team last year with seven or eight lads been drafted onto the panel.
“The rules were given out to show these lads the standards and practices we strive for and to show them this is what’s required to try put our club back on the map.”
As mentioned earlier, Byrne has managed and joint-managed the St.Brigid’s team for a number of years and has enjoyed success with the club in 2013 after co-managing the team to a county Division 1 league title.
Did something change in 2016/2017 to prompt this ‘contract’ being constructed?
“I was involved for 4 years. 2010 to 2013. During this term, we had success, we were up competing at the business end of Dublin. I came back last year and noticed things were very different.
“We lost a lot of big players, real leaders through retirement, etc. and the lads have struggled to adapt over the last few years. To me, the culture in the team and club had also changed. The energy was gone, the spirit was low and the fun wasn’t there.
“I love this club and to me, it’s a great club and like all clubs, it goes in cycles. So, my job as I see it was to change this.
“We decided to set down our standards to pull ourselves back up to where we know we can be. We either stagnate, plod along, and accept this or we do something about it as a group as a team to change it.”
You described the media attention as “farcical”, but for an amateur sportsman to be forced to sign an agreement is farcical from another perspective – what is your response to that?
“I don’t care what anybody outside our club and our team think. That doesn’t matter to me. My only concern is our panel – every one of the 54. That is the case now and always will be. They know me, know my character, and know what I am about. I am willing to take anything all day long for them to get to where they should be.
“The funny part is people are commenting on this rule, that rule, and haven’t a clue. For example, we had a great laugh over the ‘compulsory to go to all events’ one. That is where I will arrange team nights out throughout the year. Lads go out together and have a few drinks together, as friends and bond, and enjoy each other’s company. We have already organised our first one a day at the races at the start of Feb.”
“Wearing our Brigid’s gear to training is to create our identity again. Wear our colours with passion and pride. Be proud of who we play with and where we are from. It’s funny the mass hysteria. We work hard but we definitely enjoy ourselves along the way. That’s funny as well people saying it’s draconian and it must be fun but little do they know. The group got a good laugh out of that!”
Arguably, the leaking of the message and contract from the group chat speaks volumes in the first place. To the people questioning the integrity and honesty of your players – what’s your response?
“I wouldn’t even answer anybody questioning my players or this group. They don’t know them. In this group, there are some of the finest men you could ever wish for. Some lads that have represented their county, won Dublin championships, are successful in work, college and in life.
“Not for one second would I ever question their integrity, their passion or their character. They work hard, they want to represent themselves, their families their club to the best of their abilities. I would rather be in this dressing room than anywhere else in Ireland.”
“As for the big conspiracy theory over the leak, we called a meeting. Handed out our plans for the year to each player. This included the infamous contract, training and match schedule and a few other pages of things.
“At the meeting, we went through this. Each point together. No big deal, no one was tortured or put in the hole, no one was removed from the meeting in shackles. In fact, we couldn’t sign it as we had no pens. There was no big secret about this and we have found out what happened.”
“It wasn’t a player. So, sorry folks it’s not a story.”
If you were to rewind two weeks, would you write the contract again – do you regret it?
“I don’t regret it one little bit. As I said, let people talk – it’s not our concern. The group and the players are all that matters.
“It was done to get back our culture and to instil that pride again. To ignite us and bring us together, which it has. We are Brigid’s and proud to be. We trained Tuesday and it was brilliant. To see 46 lads with their club colours, pushing each other, having the craic.
“Monday obviously was a slow news day and this will blow over. But we will carry on training hard.
“We will carry on training hard together, having fun, this week, next week, next month and so on…we will see where it takes us.”
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena.