FORMER Kildare great, Dermot Earley, will, next month, take over as Chief Executive Officer of the Gaelic Players Association. The two time All-Star, who won Leinster medals in 1998 and 2000 and scored a goal in the ’98 All-Ireland final, will take over from Dessie Farrell, who stepped down before Christmas after some sixteen years at the helm.
Earley takes over at a time when the relationship with the GAA is strong, as evidenced by a new agreement signed last July, but also at a time when challenges are to be faced in relation to club and county fixtures as well as the demands on inter-county players.
PAT COSTELLO caught up with Dermot at the announcement of his appointment and he gave us his views on his priorities, his challenges, relationship with the GAA and the launch of the new Club Players Association.
Pat Costello: First of all, Dermot, congratulations on your new appointment and we wish you the very best of luck in the role. You’ve had a long career in the army and the army has long been associated with the Earley family, why make the change in your career now?
Dermot Earley: Yeah that’s a good question. I’ve been in the army now for 20 years. I grew up on the edge of the Curragh in Newbridge and you are very much influenced by your surroundings. The Curragh was a big part of that and of course my father was a member of the Defence Forces so I always wanted to join the army and I spent the last 20 years in there.
In that time I got involved with the GPA (Gaelic Players Association), in the last number of years, at the Leadership level but also at Executive level. I feel very passionate about the work that the GPA does, the benefits that the players receive as a result of it so the opportunity arose with Dessie (Farrell) stepping down. I thought long and hard about it and I felt that it could be a positive change for both myself and the Association as well. I am just grateful that I have been afforded a leave of absence from the Defence Forces to pursue this new role.
PC: You are currently President of the GPA, what then would have attracted you to the role of CEO?
DE: Well I think that as CEO you are involved in an engagement level with the players and that’s what it’s all about. One of the things I will be looking forward to is getting out and meeting the county squads and going around to each and every squad and asking them some of the tough questions about what we need to do and where we can improve and what we need to do better. I look forward to receiving that feedback. In my role as President, which was possibly a more ceremonial role even though I was involved in negotiations and with the Government grants talks as well, but I think it is more of a hands on approach now and I can shape the direction of the Association, hopefully for the positive.
PC: You are a big man, Dermot, but you now have big shoes to fill in replacing Dessie Farrell.
DE: Absolutely and I am hugely aware of that but you know that’s a challenge as well. I will be working closely with the staff here in the GPA, who are excellent as well, and as I mentioned in my press conference, the leadership of Seamus Hickey (GPA Chairman) and Paul Flynn (Secretary GPA), that team will remain in place and that influenced my decision. So, you know, I think there is a very strong team here and we have support from a wide number of areas and when that support continues I think we will be able to make progress and build on the foundations that Dessie Farrell has laid over the last 16 years or so.
PC: What will your priorities be when you take over as CEO?
DE: Well the first priority will be stakeholder engagement and as I mentioned I need to get out and talk to the players and look at the areas that we need to do better or need to improve on but I’m not just leaving it at the players. I will talk to the GAA, I will talk to the Government, I will talk to Sport Ireland and I’ll talk to the media and anybody that has an interest in inter-county GAA and how it’s run. We will take back those soundings and reflect on them and then with the help of the NEC (National Executive Committee) and through the NEC we will develop our strategic teams going forward for the next three years.
PC: You have been involved in the GPA since its inception, how have you seen it evolve from maybe what might be described as a lobby group to now being very much part of the GAA and the decision making of the GAA?
DE: Well, I can actually think back to when the GPA first was thought of and I go back to 1997 and playing in Croke Park against Meath. After our third game with them, when were defeated, I can remember being up in the Players’ Lounge and being handed a ticket for a free drink and Glenn Ryan going over to Vincent Hogan (Chief Sports Writer, Irish Independent) and saying that’s all we got.
I think when you look back at that time you were wearing your own gear, you were buying your own boots and you were, you know, feeding yourself in order to play inter-county football and hurling. I think, then, those welfare issues were sorted but then it became an issue about professionalism but I think that’s gone away from the agenda at the moment.
I think the biggest milestone in the GPA’s history was obviously the recognition by the GAA that the GPA was the official representatives of inter-county players. I think, since then, we have been able to work on other areas such as the player development programme and the positive results from that and the benefits of it are massive for the inter-county player.
Knowing that these support services are here is reassuring for them because there are huge demands placed on our inter -county players in order to play at the top level and any service that helps with that, or helps them develop or even improves their performance on the field is a good thing. I think that the work that the GPA does here is good and we will continue to do that work.
PC: How would you describe your relationship with the GAA? Paraic Duffy is said to have described the relationship as robust but workmanlike.
DE: Yeah, it is a very respectful relationship and I think that the new agreement that we reached in 2016 is testament to that. It is a respectful, robust relationship. We don’t always agree with each other. I was part of those negotiations and they did get hot but I think that’s good, we have to have an edgy relationship. We have to look out for what’s best for our players and we operate on the mandate of our players and if they feel that we need to improve then we will do that.
PC: If you read some ex players who are now columnists, they may have a particular view, but what do you see as the challenges facing the GPA as you take over as CEO?
DE: Well I think there are a number of challenges there. One is to obviously address the Championship structure that’s there at the moment. I think it’s gone past its sell-by date and it needs changing. When you have a competition that’s unfair, it’s unfair for one province over another. I think that needs to change. We need fairness. So that’s one of the areas that we need to look at. Whether or not the new Championship proposal is passed at Congress remains to be seen and that may have an impact on our ability to bring forward a motion to change.
This is something I will bring up with our players and again if the players want further change. If they are happy to vote for a GAA proposal or another county’s proposal then that’s what we will do. So the biggest challenge I do feel is the Championship structures and trying to address that.
PC: Thinking on that, the Club Players Association has now been formed; do you think the GPA maybe missed a trick or an opportunity in staying with the elite side of the game and maybe not including the club players because you are all talking about fixtures?
DE: Yeah but obviously we have 2,000 inter-county hurlers and footballers and there are 300,000 club players. We just don’t have the resources to cover that. Even at present we don’t have the resources to provide for all of our players so that’s why it’s a constant battle. We are always looking to fundraise; we are always looking to include the Le Cheile joint venture to generate income so that we can provide the support for our players.
I welcome the Club Players Association; being a club player myself and being a club member I acknowledge the frustrations so I welcome the formation of the CPA. I listened to Liam Griffin speaking very passionately about structures and the training- to- games ratio and how all that needs to improve and I couldn’t agree more. Liam Griffin is an excellent All Ireland winning inter-county manager. Any change at that level is good; it’s good for the county game because it obviously shortens the season, because our county players play both the county and the club season, and therefore that will be good for the GAA. So, yes I welcome the voice of the CPA.
PC: Do you expect to have a good working relationship with the CPA once you take up the GPA CEO role?
DE: I haven’t talked to anybody in the CPA as yet but I’m very open to engage with each and every one of them and again as I said earlier if it improves the club game it could have a knock-on effect that will improve the inter-county game and I’ll support that.
PC: Earlier this month the GPA, the GAA and the ESRI launched a research project on the demands on inter-county players. Is that a big issue for you and will you hope to be educated by this research?
DE: Absolutely and that’s one of the areas that we are looking at. We have a Player Welfare Committee that’s headed by former Limerick footballer, Dr Jim Donovan, a man I marked myself back in the day, and we are looking at the demands placed on players. Now obviously the ESRI will survey all our membership and the findings of that report will come out towards the end of this year or early in 2018. The most important thing though is that, based on the findings that we are able to act on them and to improve the conditions and, I suppose, lessen the demands that are place on the inter-county player at the moment.
PC: I mentioned earlier about the ex players who are now pundits who are talking about the GPA, do you think that they misunderstand what the GPA really is about?
DE: Yeah, that’s a possibility but again as I said I’d be happy to meet with them and to convey our message and to just show what exactly we do here and maybe that is something that we need to look at ourselves just to get out the correct message about what we do to the wider audience. But I’d have no issue meeting them and as I said I will meet with all stakeholders that have a genuine interest in improving our inter-county games.
PC: Finally, Dermot, Dessie Farrell managed to combine the role of CEO of the GPA with being Manager of the Dublin minor team initially and latterly of their U21’s, can we see Dermot Earley being a club manager or a coach or an intercounty county manager in Kildare at any stage in the future?
DE: (Laughs) No not at the moment, it’s not on my agenda. I’d love to get back involved with my club, Sarsfields, who I have kind of taken a little bit of a sabbatical from since I finished playing with them. That’s something I’d rather start on and see where it takes me. But at the moment inter-county management or even club management is not on my agenda.