Seán Cavanagh: ‘It’s pretty petty that GAA is trying to be seen as a restricting player’

As the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA) media blackout ushered in a second consecutive league weekend, former GPA Secretary Seán Cavanagh outlined the players’ group’s position from his perspective.

Highlighting the painful legacy of a career that spanned from 1999, when he first joined the Tyrone minors, through the 2017 All-Ireland Seniors semifinals, Cavanagh came onto the field at Healy Park following Tyrone’s win over Mayo and gently tended a bad knee.

In the face of this ongoing struggle, he called the GAA’s stance on limiting joint meetings to four meetings a week “pretty petty.”

“It’s packaged as mileage for another night,” says Cavanagh.

“It’s so much more than that. I think it’s pretty petty of the GAA that they’re trying to take something away from players and limit them. Anyone who’s been through those 10 to 15 years as an intercounty player knows it takes so much.

“In my opinion, players deserve so much more than they get. I would never condone and would never want to see the game transition to any semi-pro or professional status. But in terms of medical assistance, nutrition and mileage, this should be a necessity for players.

“It’s a realization that we’re talking about an extra night in training.

“If you talk to some of these guys, they train six nights. The amount of turbulence you put your body through and the mental toll it takes on you. I know that many players suffer from it.”

Cavanagh cited the praise the GAA lavished on in-game fitness and skill, pointing out that it doesn’t come out of nowhere.

“The reality is boys now train as much as a Premier League footballer or rugby player. There is no turning back. Teams want to win,” he said. “Tyrone wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland last year if they hadn’t practiced six days a week. If they hadn’t done things in the morning before work or at lunchtime, they wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland.

“And equally, the GAA is so proud that they watch our athletes, you see Diarmuid O’Connor running 13 kilometers a game or Conor Meyler running the same.

“We’re very quick to point out what great athletes these guys are. They’re great athletes because they train six, seven, eight times a week.

“You can’t expect this level of entertainment and fitness.”

As a former captain of Ireland in International Rules, he had direct experience competing against professional athletes and hit them.

“In my opinion I was so proud to play for Ireland, to face the Australians and to be able to compete with them for strength and fitness. I said to them, ‘Look, we’re amateurs and we love it that way. We love the fact that we can still go to work. We love the fact that once you retire from football there is an afterlife.

“The minimum is the guys shouldn’t be out of pocket and if you talk to any of them they’ll all be spending money on healthy meals and protein shakes.”

He continued: “I think that has been ignored and in a mathematical calculation for most players you’re probably talking about a couple of hundred pounds a year for an extra night over the course of a season.

“Overall I think it’s worth every penny considering how much players are doing and what the only thing they get out of the game is the rewards [of playing]. OK, we love playing for the county. We’re such a proud bunch of it and you’ve got that for the rest of your life and that’s amazing.

“But at the same time the benefits of health insurance, your base mileage, which maybe helps with a bit of nutrition. In terms of a few pounds for the best food and all the time you put into everything.” Seán Cavanagh: ‘It’s pretty petty that GAA is trying to be seen as a restricting player’

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