‘Embarrass them in the media’ – how a club players’ body took on the GAA and won

LOOKING DOWN THE line, Micheál Briody predicts that the formation of another lobby group for club players is just a finger click away.

The CPA’s Micheál Briody.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

That is, of course, should one ever be needed to advocate and agitate on behalf of players at grassroots level.

As of this week, the CPA [Club Players Association] is no more. They voted ‘unanimously to dissolve’ at an EGM in the wake of the split-season model being approved at GAA Congress last weekend. 

The split-season motion was passed by acclaim, and will result in the All-Ireland finals taking place in July from 2022. With a defined period of time designated for inter-county and club competitions, the CPA feel their work is done.

“We’re very happy that we achieved our objective [which] was to fix the fixtures,” a delighted Briody — the now former CPA chairman — told The42 just a few days on from their announcement to disband.

“We believe the split-season being brought into rule at Congress last Saturday has fixed the fixtures going forward.

“Now you have a definitive, designated period for club action and one for inter-county. That’s what we claimed all along was lacking. There was no certainty for club players. It’s up to county boards now to ensure to put in a schedule of games within those designated periods.

“The fact that they’re in designated periods allows players to plan their lives. Up to this, a lot of people didn’t play GAA because it took 11 months and it was just too much of a commitment.”

The CPA has achieved so much in its four short years of existence and their decision to fold left many feeling surprised. 

Briody notes there are certainly other matters that the CPA could pursue, but adds that they had always vowed to finish up once the fixture problem was resolved. They want to stay true to that promise.

Statement from the Club Players' Association #splitseason #thankyou pic.twitter.com/3rPIE2sjf2

— ClubPlayersAssoc (@ClubPlayerAssoc) March 3, 2021

“We’re not a recognised body within the GAA. We don’t have a bank account. We’re a team of volunteers. Yes, we have 26,000 members but ultimately, the GAA has to self-govern.

“It’s not for us to do the job of the county board. The county board was always incorrectly blamed by Croke Park numerous times for not sorting out club fixtures. But the reason they couldn’t is because of the master fixture list [and] that will fix a lot of things.”

Briody is confident that the split-season model will have a lasting place in the GAA calendar. And should there come a time when the system reverts to old ways that don’t serve the club player, he believes someone else will come along to correct that.

“At any stage, if there’s an issue in four or five years’ time, another CPA can be set up by just clicking your fingers,” he says. “We have actually created the template to get change within the GAA. We were told several times that if you want change, go back to your club, put a motion through your county convention, get it sent up to Congress floor.

“We’ve proved that when that happens, all they do is laugh at them at the top level. If [change] doesn’t come from the top down, they will not pass at Congress. So the way to affect change is to create a lobby group, put pressure from the outside, embarrass them in the media. We were putting order and discipline to the system, we were looking for something every player wanted.

“So nobody could call what we were calling for unreasonable. And they didn’t like seeing this in various media outlets and that’s what gave us the moral authority to put pressure on from the outside, and force change.”

The CPA leaves with an impressive legacy, one that looks all the more remarkable when you consider the hostile greetings afforded to the group upon its inception. While club players celebrated its arrival and joined in their thousands, there were others who saw the CPA as little more than radical trouble-makers.

The club game will have a defined season from 2022.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

And they encountered many knocks in trying to fix the fixtures.

A motion to recognise the CPA as an official body was withdrawn at 2017 Congress. That didn’t surprise Briody at the time as the group was only about six weeks old at that point.

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The following year, they put forward a motion at Congress calling for greater transparency. But it was heavily defeated when it was brought to a vote.

“The way it was dealt with on the floor of Congress was embarrassing for the GAA,” Briody recalls. “The people who stood up against it really had no argument. We’re the only sporting organisation in the western world that doesn’t have transparency in voting.”

More setbacks followed in 2019 when the CPA withdrew from the GAA’s Fixtures Review Task Force, calling it a “compromised document” at the time. But relief finally came in 2020.

Ironically, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to be an unlikely ally in triggering the change they always hoped for.

“Only for what happened with the split-season that was forced upon the GAA last year because of the pandemic, there’s no doubt about it, it could have taken another 10 years.”

Briody, and the rest of the CPA executive, can walk away with pride in what they have accomplished. They’ve received plenty of messages this week from players who congratulated them on redressing the balance, while also lamenting that it took this long to get to this point.

“We hope these guys are going to stick around playing now because they have a programme of games that allows them to plan their lives around it, be that going on holidays, spending time with their kids, travelling etc.

“Now they have periods of time that they can plan to do all of those as they should have, and still play GAA.” 

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