FIXING THE CHAMPIONSHIP structures will be top priority for Dermot Earley in his new role as chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association.

Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

Next month the 38-year-old replaces Dessie Farrell, who was at the helm of the GPA for 13 years. Farrell was among the founding members of the players’ body, before serving as the CEO since 2003.

Earley, who has been president of the GPA since 2013, says sorting out the fixtures calendar is his “most pressing” concern.

“There is an appetite for change and we have been hearing that for a long time, certainly on the football side,” he said at the announcement in GPA headquarters yesterday.

“(Y)ou have a structure that’s unfair, different starting dates and different provinces. A team can play a certain number of games and be All-Ireland champions while another team has to pay a different number of games. That’s unfair, and that’s not good at the moment.”

GAA Director General Pauric Duffy’s proposals will go in front of the GAA Congress next month, a restructuring of the football championship that includes replacing the quarter-finals with group stages.

Earley continued: “We did present a proposal (to the GAA) but it did not make it to the floor of Congress last year because it did not have a B tier and the number of games were increased in the proposal. The irony is that the GAA’s proposal has an increased number of games as well. We will have to watch that space very clearly.”

Earley was a selector with Ireland’s International Rules side in 2015

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Earley will canvas the players before the GPA takes a stance on Duffy’s plan, but as part of their agreement with the GAA last year, the players’ body may be able to bring their own motion to Congress in 2018.

“I would have hoped that we could bring a motion to Congress in 2017 but to be allowed to bring that motion it has to go to the floor of Congress, so we won’t be able to bring a motion ourselves until 2018.”

Earley welcomed the formation of the Club Players’ Association, who have adopted the mantra, ‘fix the fixtures.’

“Club players are very entitled to go out and form their association and they’ve been banging on the door,” he said. “There is a fixture mess that needs to be addressed and this is another voice at that table.

“In any sport, you have to strive to be the best you can be and there has to be an elite level in that sport. That’s who we represent, we represent our county players who play in order to be the best they can be and we support them.

“Obviously not everybody can be in that bracket and the other point on that is at the end of a long season, our players have to go back and play with their clubs as well. So any improvements in the club structure is an improvement to the GPA, to the county player, but also to the overall structure of the GAA as well.”

Earley in action against Darragh Ó Sé in 1998

Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

An All-Star winner in 1998 and 2009, Earley has been involved with the GPA on some level or other since its inception in 1999. In those boisterous early days, the GPA were suspected in some quarters of seeking a pay-for-play regime, but Earley says a move towards professionalism is not on their radar at the moment.

“I suppose that caused a lot of conflict during the naughties but I think the recognition that we would maintain the amateur status is in the first initial agreement with the GAA. (It’s) also enshrined in our constitution. I think that area has gone away. It’s not on the agenda at the moment.

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“When I go out to talk to (the players) after taking over, if I come away from those discussions and I reflect that that is one of the pressing issues, then it does become something that is on the agenda. But at the moment, it’s not. And I’m pretty close to the players to know that it’s not top of the agenda at all.”

The incoming CEO indicated that the GPA’s fundraising efforts in the United States will “absolutely” continue.

“Fundraising in the US is very important. Our funding at the moment doesn’t allow us to provide for all our members so that fundraising is very important.

“It’s for us to provide for our players. We have to fundraise. There’s a huge body of work involved in it but it’s important we keep going with it.”

Galway’s Aidan Harte races forward during the Fenway Hurling Classic in 2015

Source: Emily Harney/INPHO

In November 2015, the ‘Super 11′ hurling match between Galway and Dublin in Boston’s Fenway Park drew some criticism after a large number of players were involved in a brawl during the second quarter.

But Earley hopes the exhibition match will return in 2017.

“We will resurrect the Super 11s and we hope to get a game back in the States later this year. I think the passion shown by the Dublin and Galway teams was appreciated by the crowd out there.

“Obviously no one wants to see a shemozzle but it just goes to show you that they wanted to go out there and put on the best possible show to showcase the skills of hurling. If passion spills over in that case, then so be it.

“It’s about showcasing the skills of hurling. A warrior sport, unique to Ireland.”

What about the rumours the Super 11s will be increased to four teams this year?

“Possibly not this year but maybe in the future.”

Earley will take a leave of absence from the Defence Forces to assume his new role and admitted there’s a “strong possibility” his days in the Army are over.

“It is a great opportunity for me. I would like to think that I would be committed to the association for a long number of years.”

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