'Unfair' county structure has no future – O'Shea
Mayo midfield giant believes franchise system will eventually take control in a brave new GAA world
Mayo midfielder Aidan O'Shea has envisaged a future for Gaelic games beyond the current inter-county model that has shaped competition at the highest level for so much of the 130-year history of the Association to date.
O'Shea believes the changing nature of Irish society and demographics will eventually make it impossible to organise games on a 32-county basis and that franchises and different competition structures will form the basis of any future.
The current All Star sees professional Gaelic games as an inevitability, but not during his own career.
"It's going to go there eventually – we all know that," he said.
"We are not going to have 32 counties playing Gaelic football. It's just not viable. It might be 20, 30, 40 years away but that's the way it has to go. The way our country is set up, the way our population is, you are not going to have 32 teams.
"How is it fair that you have some teams that can't compete?" he argued. "Eventually you can join up a couple of teams and then you have a more competitive environment.
"At the moment, you have a few teams that are p***ing into the wind every time they go out on the pitch. In my position as a player, I don't like to be saying that about other teams, but that's the reality in the sport at the moment.
"Eventually they will not be able to get the funding or sponsorship that Dublin can get. At the moment in Mayo we're not too bad, but some teams are struggling. Unless you can compete, it is not fair.
"You will probably have franchises, you are probably going to have to split the championship into a different structure.
"That's the way it's going to go and yes, players will get paid eventually," he predicted.
O'Shea has cited the example of All-Ireland club hurling finalists Mount Leinster Rangers, a club conceived out of a merger between three pre-existing clubs from the same parish in Carlow, to support his view that such unions at the highest level will become a reality.
"If you said to somebody 30 years ago, 'If you all joined up together you can go and have a day in Croke Park,' they would laugh at you and say, 'What are you on about?'" said O'Shea in reference to their recent St Patrick's Day appearance.
O'Shea welcomed the deal that will see Sky Sports broadcast 20 championship matches this summer, 14 on an exclusive basis, but sees a new imperative now to ensure that players' expenses are sufficiently met.
"We (players) are the only ones on All-Ireland final day who don't get paid. We get around €500 (Sports Council grant) for getting Olympic-style drug tests. That might do you a weekend away in Dublin and that's about it.
"Obviously, there are huge perks, don't get me wrong. With the Sky deal the top guys will get some great exposure from it as well, which is brilliant for them, but the split overall, it won't be as beneficial as everyone thinks," said the Breaffy man.
"I've been at GPA meetings where I've heard about players from other counties not getting their expenses, not getting what they are supposed to get from a gear point of view.
"So, whatever about people saying Gaelic players should be happy getting to wear the jersey, if they are putting in this amount of effort and still not getting 50 cent a mile for travelling to training, that's ridiculous."
O'Shea also feels Sky's arrival will shake up the championship coverage and he welcomes what he feels will be a more positive approach to the games, citing RTE as becoming "complacent" and "lazy" in their delivery.
"The analysis of the game will go to another level. That's what Sky do. It will be a bad game and people will still think it's a good game because Sky will make it so good.
"I mean I've never heard a hurling analyst say it was a bad hurling game.
"Like Dublin and Wexford played in the hurling championship last year. It was a horrible game, horrible. I didn't hear anyone say it was a horrible game (Ger Loughnane described it as "constipated hurling"). They complimented everyone on their effort, (players) trying to do the right thing.
"If that was football, if it was the opposite way around, (it was the) worst game ever seen. Jesus Christ, what are we doing? We're handpassing, handpassing, handpassing. It's unbelievable.
"We love to talk down Gaelic football, but you'll never see a hurling person talk down their sport.
"I think RTE are lazy, they probably got this way because it's been a monopoly really and now they are going to have to challenge themselves a bit more in their production and their analysis."
O'Shea was speaking at the launch of the Electric Ireland minor championships which commence this weekend with the memory of Mayo's "flattest" performance for some time in Sunday's league semi-final defeat to Derry still vivid.
"Very lethargic. I think you don't have to be one of the players to notice that," he reflected.
"Even when we were on top, we weren't very convincing on the ball, which is slightly worrying. I think James (Horan) said after the game, the longer it would have gone on the more Derry would have won and I think he was right."
And their failure to close out a game with numerical advantage in Croke Park twice over three weekends is a concern.
"When we play against 14 men, we're not doing our jobs. I don't know why that is. We played Dublin in the league and you wouldn't have known there was an extra man on our side of the pitch.
"It's something we have to work on. Because these things do happen in games.
"Especially with the black card going forward into the championship, because there is a higher possibility of those things happening. We're not using it to our advantage."
O'Shea has picked up a black card and has echoed his manager's view that there is a stark reluctance to engage in physical contact because of fears over interpretation.
As his team's biggest player, he is more conscious than anyone about the optics of that contact.
"I only played about 30 minutes of the first round of the league and it's been on my mind since. I feel personally that I have to be very careful, because I would be targeted for black cards, especially around the middle of the pitch.
"Obviously, I'm a bigger guy. And there are a lot of smaller guys around me. I think everybody is struggling.
"Just because there are higher scores, it doesn't mean the game has improved. That's a silly statement for people to make," he added.
"The scores have gone up because people aren't tackling, but tackling is a part of our game as well."