Thursday 27 October 2016

As the pressure builds, it's getting harder to keep lid on pay-for-play

Published 14/08/2015 | 02:30

Imagine how better Richie Hogan might become if he played inter-county hurling every two weeks? SPORTSFILE
Imagine how better Richie Hogan might become if he played inter-county hurling every two weeks? SPORTSFILE

A year ago today Kerry footballer James O'Donoghue summed up what is wrong about the structure of the GAA championship in less than 140 characters.

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On August 14, 2014, the court of arbitration for sport upheld Luis Suarez's four-month ban for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini at the FIFA World Cup. His punishment was softened with the ex-Liverpool striker cleared to train with his new club Barcelona during the suspension.

On hearing the news about Suarez being temporarily reduced from being a player to a trainer, O'Donoghue joked in a tweet: "Luis Suarez will be siiiick, training with no games… he should have just come to the GAA."

Nicely put.

Suarez would go on to play 43 times for Barca in the 2014/2015 season earning a reasonable €280k a week. Since last September's All-Ireland final, GAA fans have seen O'Donoghue play three championship games on live TV - and that includes the Munster football final replay.

He worked hard on rehabilitation and recovery after shoulder surgery last November before fighting it out at training to regain his place on the Kerry team. Between the high points of playing inter-county championship games, the rest of the time is padded out with training, training and more training. All for €0 a week.

Yep - whatever about not getting paid - there is no way Suarez could ever get his ego around playing so few games despite all the training.

The 2014 Footballer of the Year (O'Donoghue, not Suarez) caught the humour and brevity just right in his tweet above. But this week the 2014 Hurler of the Year gave us much more of an insight into the frustrations of having to work within the strict parameters of the championship format from a player's point of view.

"I don't like the system at all," Kilkenny's Richie Hogan said in an interview with Off The Ball on Newstalk. "I hate it. I'd rather have a match every two weeks. This year we have played three games and we are in an All-Ireland final. Last year after three games we were in a Leinster final. It's a stark contrast.

"We train so hard we just want to get a chance to go out on the field and maybe show what we can do," Hogan added. "If I had a choice I'd love to play maybe six or seven games at least in championship but you don't have a choice."

I need to interject here - imagine if we could see Hogan play an inter-county championship game every two weeks during the summer? And if you're to follow the line that games make players better, can you imagine how better Hogan can become if he played inter-county every two weeks.

"What players want is they want games," Hogan said. "If you look at all the top sports across the world, you look at the Premiership you look at any sport, they are all more or less league-based whereas ours is championship-based which is a tough thing to do."

Nicely put.

It just so happens that the two players referenced here - a Kilkenny hurler and a Kerry footballer - are guys who have been in the fortunate position of being able to stick around the longest in the championship.

And yet, as Hogan said, he wants to play more championship games. No wonder players bomb it out of the Hogan Stand onto the pitch at Croke Park after hearing Hogan talk about the way playing is the driving force for him as opposed to success.

So why is a lid being kept on some of the best talent in our country with the GAA continuing to rigidly adhere to structures which have long gone past their sell-by dates? Shouldn't the mercurial talents of the likes of Hogan and O'Donoghue be given as much air-time and exposure as possible? What are we afraid of?

Are we afraid that if GAA amateur players are asked to play more games in a new championship lay-out that some people will start to question why players aren't getting paid to entertain us?

It's understandable that the championship was originally a knock-out based competition because we are dealing with amateur players here. I'm coming down with mild structure-itis such has been the repetitiveness of a lot of the well thought-out proposals in how to remodel the championship.

But some of the ideas involve an increase in the number of games that teams play. For example, the GPA's latest draft in how to change the All-Ireland football championship involves an increase of championship matches from 64 to 91. Each county post-league would play at least three games in a Champions League-style All-Ireland series.


If a new championship structure ever comes in which requires GAA amateur players to play more games, is it fair that they would continue to not get financially rewarded? Yes players would be training at the weekend anyway if they're not playing. But no-one makes money out of GAA players training as opposed to how the GAA would make money from fans going to watch teams play or by selling the extra games off to TV stations.

Monaghan captain Conor McManus reckons the demands on inter-county players is only "going to get worse. After every year it's only going to get more demanding and more professional". His season with Monaghan is over after four games. He would prefer to play more games in the championship during the summer rather than the four or five pre-season games in the McKenna Cup and seven National Football League games.

More games. More demands. More pressure. Someone somewhere will have to press harder on keeping the lid on any future talk of pay for play.

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