Saturday 16 November 2019

Eugene McGee: Celebrate... and the party's over

Celebrating All-Ireland final success is an admirable trait in the GAA which few other sports can match. It represents the high point of the relationship between the GAA and the people because the stars of All-Ireland final day are transformed overnight into iconic figures yet they retain their commitment to their clubs to an extraordinary degree.

But while celebrating in itself may be a fine thing, the trick nowadays is to celebrate wisely. It is hardly a coincidence that the Dublin footballers have won the All-Ireland nine times in the past 90 odd years yet they have only retained their title once in that period, in 1976/77.

They failed to retain the title in 1984, 1996 and this year and there is little doubt the extended aftermath of an All-Ireland success poses problems for a lot of players.

In all counties that win All-Irelands in modern times the celebrations on a team basis can go on for months. All team members and mentors will invariably have to bring the Sam Maguire Cup to their own club. And in many counties that famous trophy finds its way to nearly every club in the county, not to mention national and secondary schools, hospitals and various charity events.


Clearly in the case of Dublin GAA, this represents an enormous task and the fact that they win the All-Ireland so seldom -- three times in the last 28 years -- increases the pressure when they have a victory.

With more than a hundred GAA clubs in Dublin city and county -- some fielding up to 70 adult and underage teams per week -- it is not hard to understand the pressure on county board officers to organise the visit of the cup to a huge number of venues in the winter months.

For a few weeks the euphoria of success carries players and others in the winning camp enthusiastically through these chores, but as the visits go on and on it is inevitable that some players begin to feel the strain.

It is much the same in counties from the rest of the country, but of course it is much more demanding when Dublin players are involved. As we saw since last September, there wasn't a week without media coverage of Dublin players involved in promotions of all sorts, some for the fun of it but many for commercial assignments.

This is the way of the modern Gaelic footballer who has an All-Ireland medal -- he is a marketable product and nowhere more than in the capital city. And it is the marketing people who decide which players to seek out for commercial assignments.

These players get well paid for their work, of course, and the GAA has long since approved these payments despite the amateur status of GAA players. Common sense for once had broken out.

The relevance of all this is that it must have been extremely difficult for some Dublin players to resume their football careers in 2012 with the same level of application and intensity as previously under manager Pat Gilroy. Because apart from the obligatory events when players were detailed to attend certain venues with the cup, individual players and their colleagues were perfectly entitled to celebrate privately following a momentous event such as beating Kerry in an All-Ireland final.

All through this year's championship there were clear signs that the hearts of some Dublin players were not in the right place as sloppy play abounded, silly frees were conceded and the killer streak which enabled them to win in the dying minutes against Kerry was conspicuous by its absence.

This is a fate that has befallen many other All-Ireland-winning teams in recent years when it seemed they were destined to win the double or treble. Tyrone were the best example when in each of the three years they won Sam Maguire in the past decade they failed to retain it, even though it must be said injuries also played a part in that situation. As usual, of course, Kerry bucked the trend with All-Ireland wins in 2006 and '07.

Dublin's very patchy performances in some National League games, particularly the one against Mayo when they lost heavily, were warning signs that some players' approach to 2012 was different to 2011. The first-round championship victory over a poor Louth team gave a false impression of Dublin's true position and, incidentally, even as late as early summer several Dublin players were busy with commercial promotions, something which must have caused some unease to Gilroy.

This situation with Dublin players and commercial opportunities also applies to other counties but not to the same extent (with the possible exception of Kerry). Looking at the overall picture in this area, it is obvious that the change from strictly amateur to the present situation will pose greater problems for the GAA in the future.

It is over 30 years since the first blatant commercial promotion with GAA players arrived when the Kerry team of that period, icons all, appeared on a full-page advertisement half-naked surrounding a washing machine on the day of an All-Ireland final.

What will most concern All-Ireland-winning team managers is the detrimental effect on their team the following year from celebrating too well, a factor which seems to have played a part in Dublin's decline and surrender of their All-Ireland title.

Irish Independent

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