If your GAA club asks your team to sign a contract this is how they view you... as children
During the Laois panel's first meeting with Liam Kearns in 2008 we completed a workshop. We split into groups of four or five and discussed a series of topics like previous management, our goals for the year, tactics and where we needed to improve.
In our groups we were also asked what was expected of the squad to help achieve our goals for the year. Each group handed up their answers and the same words appeared from each one – commitment, loyalty, determination, humility, leadership, togetherness, sacrifice, discipline etc. We fleshed each one out as a group and agreed on our top five, which became our mantra. They were printed off and everyone got a copy. We would remember each one and aspire to stay true to them throughout the year.
If lads stepped out of line throughout the year, Liam would remind us that discipline was one of our chosen mantras and the lads that stepped out of line were letting everyone else down. The logic of what Liam was trying to do was obvious - he wanted us to set the required standards and by doing that the panel would feel empowered and we would self-police them.
Fast forward eight years and a new type of player contract has become the norm. I first heard of player contracts when Jim McGuinness asked the Donegal players to sign one in 2011. While I disagree with any type of player contract, I could see what McGuinness was doing. It was pretty extreme to make his players sign it but you have to remember he inherited a completely dysfunctional panel.
The Donegal squad were absolute booze hounds and had serious discipline issues that Jim would have witnessed first-hand. Intercounty football had become very professional and Donegal were way behind the rest. It was a unique case and I’m sure part of the reason for the contracts was the psychology of it - to shock the lads into action and make the party boys realise that this is serious business.
Two problems arose from McGuinness’ player contracts. One was that word of it got out and, secondly, Donegal won the All-Ireland the following year. What does every manager in the country do when a team wins the All Ireland?
Not only have these player contracts become the norm at intercounty level, unbelievably, they have filtered down to club level. Clubs are now trying to copy intercounty levels of professionalism when the whole point of the GAA, especially at club level, is that it’s an amateur sport that should be enjoyed. Yes, winning is important, of course, but the ends do not justify the means.
On Monday a player contract for St. Brigid's club in Dublin was leaked and it’s as shocking as anything I’ve seen. What on earth has the GAA become that an adult, at club level, has to sign one of these things?
Most of the ‘rules’ are standard practice on panels. On healthy panels most of these will be a given, so why do players need to be contracted to them? It reminds me of a list of rules you’d see on the classroom wall in primary school including rules like ‘no running in the corridor’. At least we didn’t have to sign them and we were children.
Players are told at the bottom of the contract that, "I will honour it (the contract) and comply with all that rules stated above. I understand that failure to do so could mean my removal from the senior panel".
Removal from the panel! Christ almighty.
Let’s have a look at some of the ‘rules’...
- I will respond to all notifications on Teamer
What happens if a player is busy in work and forgets to reply to Teamer? I forget to reply to texts and emails all the time. I get distracted and they go completely out of my head. Does that mean I’ve a discipline problem, that I’m not giving the required commitment to win a Dublin championship? If this happens on a few occasions will it result in my removal from the squad?
- I will come to all training and games on time.
Every squad in world sport obviously has this as best practice. Some managers are sticklers for it, others more relaxed. What about the doctor on the squad that works in casualty and an emergency happens? What about a player that gets stuck in traffic because he drives across the city from work? What if this happens to these lads on more than one occasion? It’s a long season that stretches over nine months. Being late happens to everyone for different reasons but what if you’ve signed a contract to say you won’t be late? Should an adult player be stressed about being late for training at club level, a pastime that should make him happy, because he has signed a contract? Just think about that.
- All holidays must be agreed in advance with management and only be taken during breaks in the season.
Okay, I’ll stop you right there. Fuck off. This year the Dublin club championship had the first round in April and the second five months later at the end of September. That’s a pretty long break but the St Brigid's lads have to ask management's permission when to go on holidays. What if one of them is struggling financially and can get a really good deal on flights and accommodation during a time management disagrees with? Can they really expect to dictate how their family live their lives for a league game?
I’m going to stop there because I’m getting annoyed.
I’ve seen some people say there is nothing shocking in the contract. However, they are spectacularly missing the point. These contracts dictate to adult players and set schoolyard-style rules, which take the joy out of what is supposed to be an enjoyable pastime. It is the opposite of empowering players. The good managers inspire their players and make them want to be on time, to put 100% effort in, encourage teammates and to help create a positive environment. That should happen organically, not as the result of a player feeling pressured because he signed a player contract.
I’m not surprised the contract was leaked; I hope more of them are put in the public domain and the managers that enforce them exposed. If Gaelic football has changed this much in the last eight years, what level of dictatorship await our current Under-10s and U12s when they arrive at senior level in eight years?
The St Brigid's management might promise/threaten that "we will have craic along the way!" but if this is how things are going, soccer and rugby sound like pretty good alternatives.
On this week's GAA Hour that controversial St Brigid's contract is torn apart, while Wooly heads along to the Club Players Association launch. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes.
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