GPA chairman and Limerick Hurler Seamus Hickey has outlined the scale of the task facing the new CEO of the organisation.
Hickey has acted as interim CEO since Dermot Earley announced his resignation from the post at the start of the year, he succeeded Dessie Farrell but was gone within a year of taking the job.
Speaking to OffTheBall.com’s morning show OTB AM, Hickey says the process to find a new CEO is about to begin in earnest:
“What we’ve done for the last two months was getting a subcommittee of our board working on what we’re looking for in terms of our next CEO, the advertisement is due out in the next couple of days and we’ll get that process up and running as fast as we can.”
Hickey spoke of the importance of finding a person who can unite players and demonstrate the vital role the GPA have played in the past of improving the conditions of those playing at inter-county level:
“The most important thing, it’s universal in all the things we do, we need someone who knows the players, understands the players and represents them well. The environment has changed for the GPA and GAA especially in recent times with new personnel on both sides.
“We’re basically a stake holder in our games, our players are hugely important, we need someone who is going to represent them to the best of their ability we need someone who is empathetic towards the players and represents the players as best they can.
“Even if you were a past player there is a need to understand the modern player and the modern game and understand what the pressures are on and off the pitch. It can be a past player, it can be someone who is intimately familiar with the GAA and with the players and the commitments they make, it can be a positive and negative to be in a dressing room and have been in a dressing room depends on your openness and understanding of today.”
Hickey also addressed concerns raised about the GPA’s fundraising efforts in America. They held a dinner at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue last year where the Platinum Package to buy a table cost $50,000, other packages were available at a cost of $25,000 and $10,000. An individual ticket cost $1,000.
“At the genesis of the GPA we were self funded, we had a commercial deal with Club Energise at the time which was one of our main incomes and we had no official recognition with the GAA, our founders basically took it as a mission to go over to the USA to raise awareness of the commitments and the role that the inter-county player in Ireland plays in our national sport, the leaders that they are on and off the field and the role models in the community.
“They went over with that ambition to develop a network of supporters of highly influential people in the US to help fund at the time our players programme, including scholarships.
“Then with the agreement with the GAA when we set up our player’s development programmes and our programmes of career and financial advice, CV support, interview skills and workshops and all of the different programmes we have. The demand from players started to increase, without the funds we receive from the US fundraising we wouldn’t be able to fund it; we’d have to restrict the services we offer to our members. The fundraising efforts in the US are essential to come of the key programmes we run.
“In recent years part of the US funding has been used to support our friends in the WGPA, we have actively contributed to their running and successful growth of their association, without an independent revenue stream to supplement what the GAA gives us we wouldn’t have the resources to provide what we do for players, that’s the reason we’re over fundraising.”
The GPA have been the subject of criticism recently from former Tyrone defender and three-time All-Ireland winner Philip Jordan. He suggested they had faded from relevance after partnering with the GAA.
In a column on the RTÉ website the former footballer also called for more transparency on how the organisation spends the money it makes.
Hickey feels some of the criticism is unfair: “All the gains that we make for inter county players are so that players are taken care of, players being able to balance their life on and off the pitch we don’t want it taken for granted we want it to be a norm.
“All the work we’ve done for the last 10 years is so these players today don’t have to experience the scenario of going home without eating anything after a training session, basically getting a pair of socks and togs in June to play for their county and offsetting the expense of training and diet entirely by themselves.
“A lot of the things we’ve gained is so that they didn’t know that history and the reality before, it’s understandable that players don’t understand what the efforts were to get it.
“I’m surprised at a lot of the commentary and the rhetoric around the GPA. A lot of it is from a lack of understanding at what the GPA does, in the past we have focused entirely on communication with our members; something we are trying to do now is open up to a wider audience.
“It is frustrating sometimes when you do see inaccurate reports that don’t have the right information. For one example, the education scholarships that we give out, we were accused of being biased towards high profile players, that’s not true, it couldn’t be further from the truth".