It’s the first real Monday of 2018, last Monday being New Year’s Day and a Bank Holiday, and, judging by a lot of recent newspaper articles, the organisation that is probably the most important one in the country, the GAA, seems to be facing into what can only be described as a challenging period.
The biggest problem is the manner in which inter-county teams have pretty much taken over, to the detriment of the local club scene. There is a definite unease amongst the clubs, who are having to do without their star players for long periods of the year, while those players are, effectively, controlled by their county managers. The end result is a club structure which seems to be unhappy with the overall fixture setup.
The problem is now so serious that one article I read in a national newspaper this week suggested that county players, as with rugby players who get picked by the provinces, automatically give up their club allegiance and only resume their club careers when their inter-county careers are over. It’s a fairly dramatic solution, but at least club managers would know exactly where they stand and applications for postponements, because a club was missing their county men, would be a thing of the past.
Now I am well aware that it must be a nightmare to organise the many GAA club fixtures that take place week in, week out, all over the country, but whatever else happens it should always be remembered that the local club is the foundation on which the national organisation is built on.
Sticking with the county scene (and indeed some clubs as well), the level of commitment demanded has often been a source of wonder to many people, and a recent interview by Tipperary All-Ireland winner, Kieran Bergin - in which he says he would never have taken up hurling if he knew exactly what ha was letting himself in for - gives a unique insight into the sacrifices of an inter-county player. He says he was literally owned by the county management, and that his social life was put on hold for all the years he was on the county panel, and, while obviously he could have walked away, he now finds it hard to understand how so many young lads give up everything to try for success as an inter-county player.
I have often said that that a couple of pints a week or so before any match won’t do any harm at all, and that total abstinence, which is demanded by a lot of county and even club managers, is totally ridiculous. Bergin also questions why the lad, who gets the number 30 to 34 jersey, which means he’s not really involved on match day but still is expected to train flat out with the county team, can’t be released to play all his club games, which seems reasonable enough to me.
This is something that has been causing concern for some time, and I know I won’t come up with the answers but the club versus county problem seems to be coming to a head.
Joe foresees a pay-per-view future
Staying with the GAA, and Joe Brolly is definitely one of those unique types of people that are either loved or hated, with me coming down on the ‘love’ side. As we look at the problems that the organisation is facing he is very concerned with the commercialisation of the GAA brand, and he feels that big companies like AIB and Sky Sports are effectively taking over the GAA.
He foresees the day that there will be no free broadcasting of our national games, that it will all be pay-per-view with Sky in full control. He also says the day will come when the All-Ireland finals will take place in ‘Sky Park’, and he fears that the whole package will be priced out of the ordinary person’s reach.
The GAA was founded on the principle of volunteerism and amateurism, and without the unpaid lads who line the pitches, put up and take down the flags and nets, make sure the dressing rooms are clean and the water is turned on for the showers, it would be a very different organisation. But even though it will never be admitted, nowadays there are loads of GAA members, from coaches to managers and trainers and most certainly top players, who are benefitting financially from their involvement with the game. The question has to be asked as to how long the unpaid volunteers will continue to give of their time and effort.
I am not against anyone getting paid for the considerable demands they put on themselves and their families but I think it’s high time it was all out in the open to let the public know exactly what is going on. I am also aware that some managers only get legitimate expenses, but a bit of transparency would clear up a lot of loose talk. A few years ago it was said a certain county manager was on €100,000 a year with a company car thrown in, which was almost certainly not true, but the problem is that no one can be sure.
Anyway, I believe that Joe Brolly and Colm O’Rourke care enough about the game they played so well that they will continue their fight against its commercialisation and ensure the GAA keeps its place as the heartbeat of our local communities.
‘Micko’ made for great TV
It’s now Tuesday afternoon and even though it was never meant to happen, it looks as if this column is going to be nearly all about the GAA because, in tandem with hundreds of thousands of viewers last night, I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary ‘Micko’, about legendary Kerry footballer and manager, Mick O’Dwyer, which was shown on RTE and which captured the essence of O’Dwyer the footballing man.
As much as was possible, it showed how much the GAA meant to the Kerryman, which, was effectively everything. But for me, the most telling thing about it all was that at the end of an unparallelled career, the last team he managed, at the age of 79, was the local U-14 side, who he was proud to inform us won the Division 5 league. I think that tells us all we need to know, not only about the great Micko, but also about what the GAA, in it’s purest form, means to the ordinary, everyday people of Ireland.
Well done RTE, It was an hour of absolutely riveting television and let’s hope we see more of this type of interesting documentary.
Get yourself to Vinegar Bill’s next gig!
Finally, for this week, on Saturday night, I headed to a jam-packed PJ’s in Castlecoote, to see and hear for myself what all the excitement was and is about Vinegar Bill, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. Vinegar Bill are, I suppose, a type of folk group, and they went down a treat with the huge crowd. If you see them advertised any time soon, make sure you go and see them, but be warned, go early, their big following will be there already!
Till next week, Bye for now!