GAA must fight 'insidious grip' of gambling, warns Costello
Dublin chief executive John Costello has sounded loud warnings about the risks of gambling among GAA players and has also used his annual report to sternly criticise RTE for their coverage of Gaelic games during the league.
He has also called for the blight of feigning injury in Gaelic games to be tackled and claims that one particular team is "adept" at the practice of duping referees and getting their opponents into trouble.
In a lengthy reflection, the long-serving official has once again raised the prospect of radical change to the structures of the inter-county competitions – he believes the GAA should not be afraid to schedule some of their games for Friday and even Thursday nights if they are suitable.
In the wake of Gaelic Players Association chief executive Dessie Farrell's revelation that three inter-county players had sought help for a gambling addiction in recent times, Costello admits he is "increasingly fearful over the potential long-term consequences as GAA gambling takes an insidious grip on a growing number of our members."
"The fact that betting is so readily available now compounds the risk for those players who are vulnerable to addiction," he writes.
"The fact that bookmaking firms will offer odds on a range of individual and team performances on the bigger underage GAA matches is something that, I believe, warrants closer examination by the GAA.
"Many in the Association have long complained about the pernicious influence of alcohol sponsorship, especially how it can influence impressionable teenage minds.
"Yet, is it not also the case that a young footballer or hurler, who can place a bet on their own team, or even themselves as first goalscorer, carries inherent future risks?
"It's debatable how – or even if – the GAA can limit betting on its underage games. However, the wider debate about tackling the scourge of gambling addiction in this online age is one we must have, sooner rather than later."
RTE once again comes in for a sharp rebuke over their failure to show a live GAA match from the end of September until the beginning of May.
"There is zero live coverage of our national games between the end of September and May," Costello laments.
"I wrote about this matter last year and RTE responded by saying they did not bid for the rights to screen the Allianz Leagues, leaving them to TG4 and Setanta (not all games free to view for everyone).
"Well my view has not changed – the licence fee payers, whose primary sporting interests are Gaelic games, are being short-changed. Domestic soccer has 'Monday Night Soccer,' while rugby has 'Against the Head,' but what of football and hurling?
"Even the Six One news on Sunday evenings gives scant coverage of football and hurling, just listing results in some willy-nilly fashion without, at times, informing the viewer whether its football or hurling, quarter-finals, semi-finals or finals or any real detail.
"Surely Croke Park's powerbrokers should insist that RTE screen some live league action and ensure they do so by including it in the deal for championship coverage?"
The fear of having to compensate players for time off should not cloud any debate over the staging of games on a Thursday or a Friday night, Costello claims.
"People's lifestyles and rosters have changed. For lots of those fortunate to be in employment, the traditional nine-to-five, five-day week is a thing of the past.
"For this, and other practical and marketing reasons, we must open our minds more to midweek/Thursday/Friday night matches, when it is practical for the competing counties.
"Why does everything have to be cramped into the Saturday/Sunday slots?
"Is there a fear that players will look for compensation for time off? If so, cross that bridge when the GAA comes to it, but don't shoot down the idea on the basis that it might create a problem."
Costello describes acts of feigning injury as "cowardly and unsporting" and calls for steps to be taken to eradicate it from the games.
"The year almost gone was as bad as any in recent years. Some teams, and one in particular, have become very adept at it," he writes.
"They are guilty of feigning injury in a bid to dupe the referee and other match officials into both (a) winning a free and presumably (b) getting an opponent booked or sent off directly.
"In teams who adopt this premeditated strategy, any sort of contact with one of their players results in that player collapsing to the deck holding the face as if dangerously struck."
He has called for an early debate about the opening up of other GAA grounds for the 2023 Rugby World Cup if the IRFU and its cross-channel partners are successful in their bid to host the event.
He stresses the financial imperative of agreeing to help the potential hosts if an opportunity arises.
"The opening of Croke Park a few years back to the hosting of international soccer and rugby games swelled the coffers of the Association at central level," he says.
"This money, I believe, was used wisely to protect the future of our games in terms of improving grounds and their facilities at both county and club level.
"In a county like Dublin, where the county board strives to develop both hurling and football to the best of its ability from nursery level right up to senior inter-county level, there is huge pressure on finances."
Costello also reflects on what he feels was an "annus horribilis" for the Dublin senior hurling team.