The All-Ireland and provincial championships kick off this weekend with no sign of a resolution to the Gaelic Players Association row with Croke Park over expenses, and the threat of silence from management and players alike after games on Saturday and Sunday.

The GAA remain adamant that they will not pay expenses for any more than 32 players and for any more than four sessions a week while the GPA have accused the central body of effectively asking players to pay to play.

The matter is unlikely to be resolved ahead of this weekend’s opening round of provincial championship fixtures across the country, with Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan echoing the sentiment within the players’ union by accusing the GAA of “disrespecting” all those inter-county footballers and hurlers preparing for the commencement of the Championships in both codes.

In an open letter published widely last weekend, GPA Executive member and All-Ireland winner Morgan claimed, “I can tell you GAA hierarchy are not treating player number 33 on inter-county panels with any great deal of respect. Look at last week’s Division 1 football league final. By all accounts Mayo were carrying seven to eight injuries. GAA hierarchy have decided to cap squads at 32. If that was to be the case, Mayo could not have even filled a match day squad of 26. They would also have been playing 12 on 12 in training in preparation for a national final. Disrespect to the players and the competition.

“Turn your attention to Kerry and see how the GAA hierarchy clapped when David Clifford graciously thanked the 10 players who had not made the match day squad in his speech when collecting the cup. Four of those players fall outside of what that same GAA hierarchy recognize as the golden 32. They can fend for themselves, not our responsibility, county boards go figure it out! Is that showing respect?

"Player Number 33 every bit as important as the player wearing the Number 1 jersey"

- Niall Morgan Tyrone Footballer & GPA NEC Member.

— GPA (@gaelicplayers) April 9, 2022

“Although we did not make the league final we, in Tyrone, had similar issues throughout the league with 10 or more players not training on some nights. How could we have prepared for serious intercountry fixtures should the panel have only been the 32 capped by the GAA? Or are managers expected to release injured players and bring in someone new every time someone gets hurt – player welfare?

“It goes further and deeper. As the 33rd player on a panel, GAA hierarchy don’t mind if you are not treated the same as the other 32. They are allowing each individual county board to negotiate their own terms with these players. These players are left to fend for themselves and their expenses rest on the negotiating prowess that they, their GPA rep or their management team has.

“However, there are non-negotiables if your number 33: the effort you put in, the amount of times you train with your team, travel to county grounds, and your subject to the same anti-doping rules as the first 32. All of the expectations, but fend for yourself!”

Morgan added: “I’ve been on calls with players from all over Ireland in recent weeks. They are livid. GAA hierarchy want to pretend they are not because expenses are being paid. But remember, they are being paid to 32 players only through the GAA’s centralized expenses system. GAA hierarchy want to ignore player 33 and above. They will get great data from their centralized system, 32 players per squad in every county, and everyone training four times a week. In reality, this is turning a blind eye to the reality.

“One big example; players released from squads after pre-season or the end of the leagues are not offered any expenses in the imposed GAA Charter, unless their own county board value them enough to do so.”

As the GAA continue to hold their ground, Morgan claimed the players are not looking for professionalism or anything like it as they seek a return to the status quo pre the COVID-19 pandemic.

He insisted, “Some would have you believe the GPA are looking for more money and are being greedy. The GPA is 4,000 players. You know us. We’re your club mates, GAA members, community members and friends. Do we strike you as being greedy?

“We’re not looking for more expenses. We’re looking for a return to what was in place pre-Covid as had been agreed in writing with the GAA hierarchy. And more importantly, agreed in good faith with the 2,500 players. However, the GAA hierarchy wanted to base the charter on the cost saving measures accepted by players during the pandemic, not on the 2016-2018 charter as the agreed baseline.

“The GAA’s position is that it will centrally pay for four sessions and anything in excess of that will be negotiated locally. So, it is okay to have any amount of sessions scheduled as long as the GAA headquarters does not pay. This does not promote good player welfare practices.

“They reneged on an agreement, which just doesn’t sit well with players. The imposed charter does use players as a cost saving mechanism and they’ve shown no urgency to try and sort the dispute out. I saw talk of ongoing negotiations this week. They’ve not talked to players on this since 10 March! If I was a GAA championship sponsor, I’d be asking why a month has passed with no effort to resolve the dispute.

“It would be easy for me to keep my mouth shut. I am looked after in Tyrone and all our players are valued regardless of their number in our panel. But the GPA cannot rely on hope and good will, they need a charter that protects all players, including number 33 and above. If we as players stand for this, what will GAA hierarchy renege on next? It took players years of a fight to get treated with respect by GAA hierarchy. That’s players in all counties; Tyrone or Tipperary, Leitrim or Louth.

“Player number 33 and above may not be seen as an equal by GAA hierarchy but, like David Clifford, I know that number 33 is every bit as important as the person wearing the number one jersey.”

*This column first appeared in the April 13 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.

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