Wednesday 26 October 2016

Feeling the envy for life of a county star this summer

Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30

Aidan O'Shea celebrates a goal for Mayo against Galway SPORTSFILE
Aidan O'Shea celebrates a goal for Mayo against Galway SPORTSFILE

I really envied Galway footballer Gary Sice last weekend. I envied the way he must have felt after scoring that scorcher of a goal against Mayo.

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I envied the way he shimmied past Tom Parsons. I envied the way he bounded towards the goal and looked like he knew with absolute certainty that he was going to bang the ball into the back of the net. I envied his understated celebration.

I envied the way Aidan O'Shea celebrated a goal he didn't actually score but which he created. I envied the way O'Shea keeps bouncing back for more with Mayo irrespective of the heart-breakers of previous summers.

I envied the Donegal players last weekend. I envied the intoxicating way they used that elixir of space and speed. I envy the fact that they have a one-off like Michael Murphy on their side. I envy where this Donegal team is going this summer.

I envy - actually no, let's halt this anti-rant for a minute. Have I got this all wrong? Aren't GAA players meant to be some version of "indentured slaves" (source: Joe Brolly, January 2015) who should be almost pitied rather than envied?

Haven't they spent the long winter months slaving away at training in an effort to entertain us this summer and keep the Association's cash registers buzzing?

What's to envy about GAA players and teams who outdo each other when it comes to being professional in an amateur game and for which they don't get a cent? A few players have even given up their day jobs to concentrate on this Championship.

It's pretty timely that for Sunday nights during the summer, Channel 4 has a new sci-fi programme called Humans. It's about robots. When they meet their new owner they say lines like "I am securely bonded to you as my primary user".

Are we going down a road where some players are practically securely bonded to the GAA as their primary user?

Brolly believes "managers are wringing every last drop" out of players. He did make valid points earlier this year about player welfare and some players not being able to work full-time because of the amount of time they spend training.

However, he also reckoned some players' careers are suffering because their "lives have been put on hold". Really? Are their lives really being put on hold?

I wonder when O'Shea and Murphy got home after their games last Sunday did they feel sickened and annoyed because it feels like their lives are being put on hold?

Remind me again how the thrill of performing close to your max as a footballer and making your county folk feel pretty damn good about themselves is putting your life on hold?

It's like saying to someone who spends their summer days lazing on a yacht on the Cote d'Azur, "yeah, but are you really happy?"

Maybe some players' version of "living" is trying to become the best footballer they can be for their county in the small window of their life that they can do it. And yes, it's easy to reference players like O'Shea and Murphy, who are two of the best footballers in our country.

So what about the Armagh footballers, for example? Would they be forgiven for questioning why they have put so much time and effort into training, diet, recovery etc only to get a hiding in their own back yard by Donegal?

Does it make them think that they would be as well off spending their evenings in with the missus supping hot chocolate and watching repeat episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians?

It's a question only they know the answer to. All I know is that I envy inter-county footballers' decisions to commit themselves to a cause that undoubtedly a manager like Kieran McGeeney would have set out for his Armagh players.

One meaning of having a balanced life is the right to go off-balance every now and then.


And if off-balance equates to spending a certain period of time being passionately committed to an ethos where you test your limits of being a footballer in a team environment with absolutely no guarantee of success, then I envy and admire those players.

It feels like there is even more attention and frisson around the Championship this summer.

It's practically the only show in town these months as there is no major international tournament like a Euros going on until the Rugby World Cup in September.

A whopping average of 409,000 watched RTE's live coverage of Galway v Mayo last Sunday - considering it was a sunny day and it was "only" a provincial semi-final, that is an impressive figure.

The GAA is all about the way it makes you feel - pride, elation, anger, disappointment and everything else along the spectrum.

But there are some feelings you can only imagine and only a select number of people who have slaved away at training have access to. Like what it feels like to score a stunner of a goal in a Championship game under the sun in Salthill. God, I envy that feeling.

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