Friday 31 October 2014

Don't blame the players for damage to amateur ethos

Published 09/12/2007 | 00:00

S o the natives are getting restless, or is it a small rump of malcontents as Dessie Farrell has described them.

What is clear is that at least a small part of Ulster is saying no again. In terms of numbers or clout, it is hard to know how strong the resistance to paying the player grants is, but those opposed to any truck with Government money will get plenty of oxygen as other GAA news is pretty thin on the ground.

In fairness, a sizeable chunk of Ulster GAA supporters are entirely consistent on this one -- they have opposed almost everything contentious over the last decade.

Allowing the police force membership of the GAA was one such move which stuck in the throat a bit -- even if it was understandable -- but it has not done any harm and probably helped to make it easier for Catholics to join the force. Without such a move, there could be no normal policing.

However, the opening up Croke Park was where the faultlines between different constituencies of the GAA appeared most stark. A majority of county board officials would not countenance foreign sports, neither would similar numbers in Ulster but when the foot soldiers in the GAA ranks got their say, the figures fairly stacked up.

What concerns most people in clubs around the country is the revenue stream that could arise to help them, so not too many are talking about locking the gates again. I suspect the same applies in the case of these grants to players which, let's be frank, are fairly measly.

While some in Ulster are kicking up a bit of a fuss, I have not come across much dissent in the colleges or club where I am fairly heavily involved. The fact of the matter is that while I am coming across GAA supporters of all types every day, not one has raised the issue of players grants as a problem. Most are of the view that if the money is there then the GAA players are as well to have it as amateurs in any other sport.

It is clear, therefore, that opposition to these grants is following a similar pattern to previous issues. There are some people in Ulster who are absolutely set against this ever happening and there is plenty of support from many county board officials whose opposition is just as much based on a clear dislike for the GPA as any problem with the funds.

Now, of course, there are plenty of genuine GAA people who have real concerns about a drift away from a traditional ethos. They value greatly the idea of everyone working for the common good without exception and without reward save the enjoyment of giving and the building up of a community. I would share that concern. I did play a bit and from that I received a healthy lifestyle, great friends, some success and a sense of personal satisfaction and achievement. We also enjoyed some brilliant holidays with Meath and we all went back and played with our clubs where we pulled our weight like everyone else.

That was then and this is now. As you get older, it is easier to look at the big picture, like where the GAA is heading. Altruistic motives, such as respect for a particular culture and the preservation of a great social movement, are things which I do give a great deal of thought to, and there are many pressing questions that I or no one else has the answers to.

What I do know is that I never wanted anything out of the GAA but if Shane O'Rourke gets a cheque in the post, I won't be lecturing him what to do with it. He is as committed to his club, college and county as much as I ever was, so I don't go along with the predictions of doom. Players don't see themselves as the protectors of some superior moral code. Why should they? If they get grants they will keep them; if they don't want the money, they can always refuse to accept but they don't need any group lecturing them on this destroying the GAA.

Often the word principle comes up, and this is the case now too: a core principle has been breached and so on. In my experience, people who get hung up on too many principles are dangerous and take themselves much too seriously.

The GAA is a flawed organisation in a lot of ways, absolutely brilliant in most ways too. There is no point in trotting out the arguments that everyone is the same in the GAA. They are not. Like any army, there is an elite corps who drag the rest along. In our case, it is the top players. Without them there would be no heroes to follow and if they get well looked after, it probably only makes those players a bigger attraction to emulate.

As for the game being a leisure activity which no one should benefit from, you can use the same argument in all sports. Few players in any code set out with the intention of being a professional sportsman. It just happened that they got paid for what they liked doing. Of course, if players get greedy in a few years and begin making massive demands, we might all regret this development but the huge commercial economy which is built on the backs of elite players has to take into account the foundation.

And this success story is only going to get bigger with a major expansion of TV revenue.

For the moment, though, my observations of our top players are of a group who commit themselves often with too much innocence to club and county, men who are nearly always available to look after medal presentations, appearances at summer camps etc without any thought of money. They are a treasure who are not being particularly well looked after by this small grant which won't buy them a new motor or bring them to some exotic holiday location.

There are some valid concerns being raised here but county boards in Ulster who won't administer these funds are really putting the boot into their own players. It is hardly likely to improve the players' motivation to play for their county.

Their protection of the amateur ethos is touching but when there are meetings arranged in Ulster to stamp out payments to club managers, a practice which is widespread and which costs far, far more than these grants, then I will take the concerns of these officials a bit more seriously.

If the amateur ethos of the GAA is dead, then it was not the players who did the damage -- in fact, they are very late coming to the table.

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