In the past number of years there has been much written about the plight of the GAA player. Their grievances are understandable and I truly empathise with them over some of the issues surrounding the game, like emigration, county involvement, balancing a hefty training schedule with work and family; all under the banner of modern day amateurism.
That is why I believe it is fantastic that the Gaelic Players Association is in existence. It gives players a voice in an era where those at the top of the GAA food chain are benefitting from Sponsorship deals with the likes of Lucozade and Adidas, and reaping the rewards of a lucrative Sky Sports television deal that was renewed just last week.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) December 9, 2016
The players are the heart and soul of the organisation and deserve a platform to address the aforementioned concerns.
The Iceberg Theory
If we take the iceberg model, which is widely used in business, and apply it to the game of rugby in Ireland it is clear to see what part of the game is visible. If you look at an iceberg, some things are immediately visible to the naked eye. However, on that same iceberg, parts are submerged in water. Unseen.
Above the water victories over the All Blacks, Champions Cup television deals, high quality professional players, Lions representatives etc. etc. This is the game many of us know and love, and what we read about every day online and in broadsheets across the country.
Part of that same iceberg, below the water, is the club game. The All-Ireland League, now known as the Ulster Bank League (UBL), is the amateur element of rugby in Ireland. Amateur, except that there are professional players playing in it on a weekly basis, against amateurs.
A league that once drew crowds in their thousands in Limerick and Dublin, Belfast and Cork is now seen as a dying, voiceless annoyance to the IRFU. There is no such thing as a player’s association for the amateurs in this league. There is a ban on clubs paying players so any burden of expense to travel from Cork to Belfast or Galway to Dublin lies completely on these clubs which see close to no funding.
There are no bursaries, grants or scholarships to universities based on representing a club in the UBL. I’m not necessarily saying there should be. However, if the amateur league is to survive professionalism there has to be input from those on the ground. There has to be some form of support and forward thinking from the IRFU.
It is a shame that there is no amateur players’ association for UBL players, as there is a massive amount of concerns that need addressing. Instead, clubs and players lie at the mercy of the IRFU and what the suits in Donnybrook think is best for us.
Robbie Deegan, Pundit Arena
Heineken Rugby Club celebrates and rewards real supporters who make the game what it is.