Tuesday 26 September 2017

Rush to judgment on Stateside exodus unfair and short-sighted

Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

In light of the number of high-profile players who have opted to head Stateside rather than play county football, there have been a lot of accusations thrown around and the lads themselves have received criticism from some quarters.

"His head couldn't have been in it in the first place," said one pundit on the radio during the week. "Clearly the pride of representing your county is not felt among some of these fellas," scoffed another.

Certain sections of supporters from counties such as Laois, Armagh and Galway may feel that players have shown a blatant lack of commitment and that that's the reason they have suffered such heavy defeats.

For me, this is an extreme view. It galls me that a desire to travel is seen as some kind of character flaw, and it also has a history of coming against players in the long run.

In Kerry, I can think of a couple of promising young lads who opted to travel when their senior careers were starting out. They found it very difficult then to get back into the set-up upon their return. For me, any manager worth his salt will take every factor into account when assessing why a player might go.

PRIDE

I was lucky enough to represent a county that was fighting for All-Ireland titles for much of my career. The pride I felt pulling on the Kerry jersey was enormous and didn't diminish from my first game to my last.

But in 1985 an opportunity arose for me to head to New York and play football for the summer. I had won five All-Irelands at that stage but I was newly married and money was tight. We would be provided with accommodation and a job for a few months. My circumstances meant it was too good to turn down.

I would be able to travel and see America, play some football, but, more crucially, get a few bob together that would help provide for the start of married life.

I told Mick O'Dwyer of my plan and even though he wasn't overly impressed, he asked would I fly home for the Munster final, and beyond should we progress. I agreed. I didn't come back in great shape – my team-mates would probably say I was never in great shape – and when I was sent off in the All-Ireland semi-final replay with Monaghan, I'd say they were wishing I'd stayed where I was!

We did go on to win the All-Ireland that year, however, so Micko's way of handling the situation proved the right one. I was lucky in that I had the best of both worlds. The modern players probably wouldn't get that.

The point is that my personal life meant that I had a decision to make and I can assure you that it wasn't an easy one. It is far too simplistic to judge young men and accuse them of a lack of loyalty.

None of us know what's really going on behind the scenes of inter-county squads. More importantly, we certainly are unable to say what a player's personal situation is.

There's no coincidence that it mainly happens in counties who, realistically speaking, won't be winning an All-Ireland. An assault on the provincial title was probably their main ambition and suddenly it's over. A call comes offering work, accommodation and a summer in New York, Boston or Chicago.

Many of these lads are unemployed, have friends and family who have emigrated and are desperate to see the world. How could they turn it down?

Sure managers will be disappointed, but I would like to think they can take a realistic view and the difficult decisions made by these players wouldn't be held against them.

When I was in New York recently, I got a tap on the shoulder and I turned to see a familiar face. Mike Brosnan from Knocknagoshel was a Kerry footballer with huge potential in the late '80s.

He went to New York and stayed there and started what is now a successful career in construction – something that would have been near impossible in Ireland at the time. In 1994 I heard he was doing great things on the football field in the Big Apple and Ogie Moran decided to bring him home. Unfortunately, he got a serious injury after a couple of weeks and headed back to the US.

But he has continued to be a massive presence in the GAA community over there and now he is heavily involved in coaching youngsters. There are countless stories with a similar ending.

The next time someone decides to pull fellas apart for heading abroad, maybe they should consider the bigger picture.

Irish Independent

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