Saturday 19 August 2017

Martin Breheny: GAA players would be savaged if spotted guzzling beer four days before an important game

Ben Te’o was pictured having a beer on down day for the Lions squad
Ben Te’o was pictured having a beer on down day for the Lions squad
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Imagine if today's newspapers carried pictures of Wednesday frolics involving any of the teams playing in next weekend's All-Ireland championship games.

What if the Galway football squad were seen relaxing in Salthill, cold bottled beer in hand or if Cork hurlers were spotted whizzing on jet boats before returning to shore and enjoying a few pints? Or if Podge Collins and the Clare lads were spotted bungee jumping?

Twitter, and other outlets for the permanently outraged, would accelerate towards yet another 'meltdown', decrying such outrageous behaviour so close to a big game.

It might even get a whirl on 'Liveline', where, no doubt, there would be plenty 'shocked' callers demanding to know what the GAA were going to do about it.

"Missus, are you telling me that you saw Player X drinking beer in broad daylight a few days before a game? Was it a full bottle? Did he look like he was enjoying it?"

"Oh yes, Joe. He had a big smile on his face. Little Johnny was with me so I pulled his cap down over his eyes and whisked him back to the car as quickly as I could in case he saw his heroes behaving so badly. The poor lad would have cried himself to sleep. I phoned Croke Park but they wouldn't talk to me. That's why I rang you."

The activities of the Lions rugby squad received lots of media attention yesterday after they were shown enjoying themselves in a New Zealand tourist resort just four days before the deciding Test against the All Blacks on Saturday.

Beer, bungee-jumping and jet boats figured prominently in the blow-out, which, apparently, was designed to relax the squad before getting back to training for Saturday's game. And who knows? It may well achieve its objective.

What GAA players will find interesting about the whole episode is the contrast between how they are meant to live their lives compared to highly-paid professional sportspeople.

Drink bans have long been in place for inter-county squads but they have extended well beyond that in recent years. Even club players are expected to remain alcohol-free zones, not just in the week of a game but for the entire season.

Obviously, more attention is paid to the inter-county scene where players have extremely regimented lifestyles. Most of them buy into it but then they have no choice, since failure to stay in line will result in a swing through the exit gate.

Obviously, it's different in rugby where no such edicts on alcohol apply. Explaining his policy on drinking during the Lions tour, Warren Gatland said a few months ago that he would have no problem with players indulging at certain times.

He just wanted them back in hotel reasonably early (1.0am apparently), where they could continue.

"The bar will still be open," he advised helpfully. Somehow it's hard to see GAA managers following that template.

Perhaps, they're right. Of course, that's not really the issue. Of far more concern for GAA players is the demands placed on them by a culture that insists they must behave in a manner decided to a large degree by perception.

If an inter-county player were spotting sipping a bottle of beer with friends during the playing season, he would be regarded as 'letting the side down'. And it wouldn't be long before news of his dastardly behaviour spread.

It's as if the public believe they own players and must act as guardians of regimes which demand incredible levels of discipline. Those involved in international sports are viewed differently.

Social media has added to the stresses for GAA players when, within minutes of the final whistle, they can be subjected to the most vicious criticisms. They let on it doesn't hurt but of course it does. There's no way of controlling social media and, unfortunately, it appears that mindsets cannot be changed either when it comes to what's expected of players, not just on match days but for the rest of the week too.

The unfair contrast between our national games and international sports extends beyond attitudes towards players.

The GAA were vilified year after year when Guinness were sole sponsors of the All-Ireland hurling championships.

The annual launch was almost always followed by experts from the medical world calling on the GAA to end their association with Guinness on the grounds that it was sending out the wrong message.

Apparently, the GAA has a social responsibility that doesn't apply to other sports, although it's not known who decided that.

The critics eventually got their way - Guinness are no longer involved in GAA championship sponsorship.

They are, however, heavily involved in rugby, including sponsoring the Pro12 League and Ireland's autumn internationals, during which GUINNESSS is emblazoned on the surface of the Lansdowne Road pitch.

Imagine if the GAA had done that in Croke Park for the big hurling action some years ago. Once again, 'Liveline' would be flooded with calls, many, no doubt, from medics expressing their disgust.

For some reason, they don't appear to be as exercised by Guinness' high-profile involvement with rugby.

One rule for GAA, another for other sports? It's called hypocrisy.

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