BBC BLOGS - Austin O'Callaghan

Archives for January 2011

Players deal is milestone for GAA

Austin O'Callaghan | 14:05 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Gaelic Players Association has received something which very few sporting groups are likely to get in 2011 - extra cash.

A Croke Park news conference on Monday provided a small but highly significant milestone for the GAA as details of a five-year agreement between the two associations were revealed.

We knew this agreement was coming. Negotiations had been ongoing since the GPA became the 'official' players representative body at last year's Annual Congress in Down. What was new on Monday was the detail.

Launching the agreement are: Dublin footballer Paul Flynn, Dublin hurler Ronan Fallon, Kildare footballer Emmett Bolton, GPA CEO Dessie Farrell, GAA President Christy Cooney, GAA Ard Stiurthoir Paraic Duffy, Armagh footballer Aaron Kernan, Kilkenny hurler Eddie Brennan and Kerry footballer Tomas O'Se

The headline of the new agreement is that Croke Park will give the GPA £7.5 million over the next five years to help run its various player welfare schemes. That is an average of £1.5 million each year.

Unlike the player welfare grant scheme, this is not government cash. It is GAA money which will now provide funding for the development of player welfare services being offered to intercounty players. These range from career advice, skills training, a business development scheme, to managing finances and taxes and personal counselling.

For its part, the GPA will remain an independent body but now has to formally commit to protecting the 'amateur status' of the association. Pay-for-play will never be on the agenda.

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When words do not seem enough

Austin O'Callaghan | 16:36 UK time, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

This was supposed to be a GAA blog about a gaelic football team called Neasden Gaels who are hoping to surprise Crossmaglen in the All-Ireland club championship this weekend but, to be honest, it does not really feel appropriate to be writing about football given the events of this week.

I did not know Michaela Harte particularly well - just to say hello to. I would meet her from time to time at Tyrone matches and various GAA events.

<small><em>Michaela Harte celebrated Tyrone's win in the 2003 All-Ireland final with brother Matthew and father Mickey, manager of the team</em></small>

Michaela Harte celebrated Tyrone's win in the 2003 All-Ireland final with brother Matthew and father Mickey, manager of the team

There was always a smile and a warmth there. And her devotion to her dad was evident wherever you met them.

I became a dad last year. It is a wonderful experience. It also changes your perspective on a lot of things.

As soon as I got home from work on Monday night, I gave my 13-month old son a longer hug than usual. I cannot begin to imagine what Mickey, his wife Marian and the rest of the Harte family are going through.

You can talk about football and championships and lists of predictions all you want. The terrible reality for them is that they won't be able to hug or hold their daughter, their sister, again.

I remember being at work on the morning of 2 March 2004 when confirmation came through that Cormac McAnallen had died suddenly.

I felt a sense of dread in having to pick up the telephone and place a call to the Harte family home to check if Mickey would come on BBC Radio Ulster and tell us what had happened.

Making that call felt like a complete intrusion on the grief of all those connected to the Tyrone team at the time. But Mickey had been asked by the McAnallen family to handle the media enquires - and I had to be a reporter first and a GAA fan second.

It was Michaela who answered the phone that morning. I knew by the sound of her voice that she was crying. She, like her dad, had had a very close relationship with Cormac and the rest of the Tyrone team.

"Hold on," she said "He is coming now...

Despite his obvious distress, Mickey Harte came on the radio and spoke movingly about Cormac's death. I will always remember the way he summed up the player in one beautiful sentence: "He was a gem of a man". Today, Mickey Harte is coming to terms with losing his own 'little jewel'.

What do you say to the Harte family at this awful time? Are words any use?

For so long the Harte family have been a great source of comfort for the Tyrone GAA community during times of great sadness. Now, more than ever, they are relying on the local community and the wider GAA family to try and come to terms with this inexplicable loss.

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