Players must have last word on who they line out for
WHo has control over GAA players? Does some unit of the Association actually have ownership of the players? Have players the final decision on what teams they play for or when – within the current rules of the GAA regarding membership, that is?
I am talking about the freedom of players to be allowed play for any team – club, county or college – that a player is eligible to play for and for which the relevant team management selects them.
This might seem a no-brainer to most people in the Association who would assume that if you are involved with a team and are obeying the rules regarding training, fitness and so on, it should be perfectly normal that you would be available for selection for the particular teams you are affiliated to.
But this is not the situation in some instances and it is clear that, quite often, players are prevented from lining out for a team because of the intervention of team managers.
It might be assumed that it is only county managers who are interfering in this way but that is not always the case because there have been many examples in recent years of club managers not allowing some of their players to play with a county team.
However, it is mainly county managers who are involved in limiting the freedom of a player to play Gaelic football with any team for which he is qualified to play.
In the past few weeks there have been many examples of county players being prevented by managers from playing for college teams as these third-level competitions were approaching their climax during the past weekend.
I have been personally told by several people involved with college teams of how county managers have forbidden players to play alongside their student comrades.
The refusal rarely comes in the form of an outright 'You cannot play for that team'. Instead, various other methods are used. Some managers will simply instruct the player that he is only allowed play for one team and that is the county team.
If the player goes ahead and plays for another team he is then dropped from the county team. Not many young men with ambition are prepared to take that risk with their inter-county careers and so are denied their ambition to play with their colleagues in college competitions.
I know one county manager who has been paid to manage third-level teams in recent years but in his role as a county team manager is prepared to prevent players from his county team lining out for other third-level teams. This is about as mercenary as you can get but this is the world of GAA 'amateurism' nowadays, it seems.
But the situation can also work in reverse. There are players from club teams who are prevented by their manager from lining out with the county team. This usually applies to weaker counties where club allegiance is often stronger than county loyalty and some club managers are prepared to capitalise on that to stop a player playing for his county.
Freedom of movement is an expression usually associated with professional soccer or rugby but it appears it sometimes does not apply to amateur GAA games.
What is at stake in all these situations is the right of an amateur GAA player to play with any team for which he is eligible. It should be an automatic right, of course, but as these examples show that is not the case.
Some managers clearly believe they own the players' playing rights and that it is they rather than the player who decides what teams they can play for.
It would be interesting to hear the views of the Gaelic Players Association on this subject and one assumes that they would uphold the right of an amateur player to have freedom of choice as regards what teams he wishes to play for – within reason, of course.
Obviously, with a big county game coming up, it is reasonable that a county manager would insist on loyalty, first and foremost, to the county team. However, the examples I have been referring to were not in that context but, in most instances, were simply the manager wielding personal control over the player.
This is a huge source of irritation for dedicated club players who also play for the county team and, while some of them are happy to confine themselves to the county team only, there are many who feel embarrassed and often offended when the county manager refuses to let them play for their clubs for long periods – and this applies at all age groups.
How often do we hear the mantra that the club is at the very heart of the GAA? That's not the way it looks to many GAA players at the present time.
A well-known Kildare player got in contact with me last week regarding an article I wrote regarding no player from the county being available for the Leinster team against Connacht last week.
He provided valid reasons – from their point of view – as to their unavailability, which we have to accept, but it is strange that for yesterday's final there were still no players from Kildare on duty.
It is a shame that the Leinster selectors did not search a bit further and, if they had, they perhaps would have discovered other Kildare players who would have been honoured to wear a Leinster jersey.