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Bernard Flynn: The GPA are not...
Football

Bernard Flynn: The GPA are not going to help past players in need

The All-Ireland winning Meath footballer Bernard Flynn has publicly questioned the ability and willingness of the GPA and GAA to care for retired inter-county players in need of assistance. 

As he stresses that the list of former players in a state worse than his own is long, the scars of inter-county football travel with Bernard Flynn, nevertheless.

Twelve years ago, he underwent surgery for a hip replacement. The former Meath footballer also struggles with the consequences of a decimated knee and receives two epidurals every six to eight weeks for his back.

A high-profile All-Ireland winner in 1987 and '88 with Sean Boylan's Meath, he remains focused on those other ex-players you are less likely to hear about, however. Bernard Flynn believes that quite a number of them are being let down by organisations that claim to have their best interests in mind.

"The GPA are not going to sort out past players," he stated on Wednesday's OTB AM. "They are doing what they can do for some present inter-county players, but they're not going to sort out past inter-county players in the way I would like and that [some of them] need."

When undergoing his hip replacement in 2009, the former Meath footballer possessed a strong sense of optimism about what the GPA could do for past players.

"Flynn has had little dealings with the GPA to date," wrote Kieran Shannon from Flynn's bedside in the Sunday Tribune, "but he can tell from something like their proposed benevolent fund that they're dynamic, proactive, empathetic."

Indeed, the association's website states the presence of a benevolent fund for current and past players, along with contact details for those in need of assistance, on its landing page.

Nevertheless, after becoming involved with the GPA on this front, Flynn eventually grew doubtful that they are equipped or willing to do what he wants to see done.

"The GPA did brilliant work and I've wrote umpteen articles on that," he stated, "[but I feel] that it has lost its way over the last number of years. When it went inside the tent with Croke Park and under that umbrella, I feel that the GPA is the GAA now and they're compromised.

"When I was asked firstly to come on board, I went on board as Secretary of a past players benevolent fund, to basically try and get something going. It is alright having functions, this, that and the other, but I'm a doer. It is about raising money and helping people substantially.

"I would have gotten letters for a long, long time and they're still coming in from past players way, way worse off than me. I said all this to Dessie (Farrell, Chief Executive of the GPA between 2003 and 2016) and Sean Potts (former Head of Communications) at the time, but I walked away because I felt it wasn't doing what it was meant to do.

"I felt I would be wasted there. It was all fun and crack but it wasn't doing - and still isn't in my opinion - enough to look after past players remotely the way we should."

GPA 2 July 2015; Dessie Farrell, CEO, GPA. Picture credit: Sportsfile

Flynn ultimately does not believe that the GPA can redeem itself in this regard.

Although he has gone to great lengths working for the benefit of those who need help, he accepts that there needs to be substantial buy-in from organisations capable of doing more.

"I do need help and [some past players] need help," he stated, "and I am willing to drive it on... and now is the time to try and do something for our own. We need Croke Park to get in behind this properly."

To that end, Flynn revealed that he has written a lengthy email to the new GAA President Larry McCarthy outlining what he would regard as worthwhile actions for the association to take.

The two-time All-Ireland winning footballer will be the focus of a new Laochra Gael episode set to be aired by TG4 on Thursday evening.

Joining OTB AM ahead of its release, Flynn divulged some of what he hopes this retrospective look at his career as an inter-county player may reveal to the wider public.

"I would have done anything at the time to play," he noted, relaying how he failed to consider his long-term physical well-being for the short-term certainty of featuring in the Meath team.

"The mindset back then, to do what you had to do just to get on the field, we thought that was normal... I wouldn't go to Sean Boylan half the time because I was in such fear of not making the team or being dropped."

He no longer believes that this outlook exists among inter-county players. Yet, for those who are dealing with the consequences of a life devoted to county football and hurling, Flynn is adamant that something must be done to take better care of them.

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Bernard Flynn GAA GPA Gaelic Athletic Association Gaelic Football Gaelic Players Association Hurling Meath

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