Sunday 26 January 2020

Colm O'Rourke: 'Those sniggering at the FAI would do well to realise the GAA has skeletons of its own'

Those sniggering at the FAI would do well to realise the GAA has skeletons of its own

We have got to a point where the GAA is like a dog chasing its tail. Stock image
We have got to a point where the GAA is like a dog chasing its tail. Stock image
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

More and more skeletons tumble out of GAA cupboards. Those who were inclined to snigger and laugh at how the FAI do business might be wise to hold fire. There are a lot of chickens coming home to roost.

The GAA has changed dramatically in terms of commercial earning potential, but it is generally run by people who have no experience, or indeed skill, in this area. It is a recipe for disaster.

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All of this is coming about because the organisation lacks direction. County boards are chasing bigger and bigger commercial deals, but for what purpose? In recent weeks, we have again seen that the accounts of most county boards show that massive amounts of money are being spent on county teams. In fact, a big imbalance is arising everywhere. The few are getting most of the money spent on them. There is little being invested in the clubs which cater for the majority.

We have got to a point where the GAA is like a dog chasing its tail. The county sides gobble up more and more money which means the commercial arm has to generate ever-increasing amounts to fund it. Nobody ever asks if this is money well spent or whether the GAA should concentrate on its core business, namely running games and pulling back on all these commercial deals.

If there was a value-for-money audit in most counties then the news would be all bad. I'm sure the first thing that stands out is that spending most of a county's financial resources on its county teams represents a poor investment in terms of overall numbers.

We must recognise that the senior inter-county team has the most potential to inspire young players, but those young players then need to be looked after properly. It's a circle that has to be squared.

For now we have the copycat syndrome, where one county does something and everyone copies it. More training, more investment in nutritionists, physios, analysts and other paid support staff.

The recent ESRI report seems to indicate that this merry-go-round is throwing up plenty of concerns for players.

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None of the growing entourages which follow county teams in increasing numbers these days want to see a red light. If there is no money left over for coaching or games development for the majority, it is no concern of this group who have taken over the GAA.

All of which makes the recent report on talent academies and player development seem even more timely. Michael Dempsey chaired the group which produced this enlightened document. Those involved carry a bit of weight. They operate underground with the coal miners and know what is going on.

The report goes through what many of us have suspected and talked about for a long time. Having elite squads can be bad for a player and often much worse for his club. Elitism at any age is dangerous. But at a time when a young player is impressionable then it is doubly worrying. Then there are the self-important elite squad managers who do not want their players training with their clubs or sometimes even playing matches with them.

These managers are the scourge of clubs. What they are doing - and the report points this out - is giving young players the impression that their club does not count in the overall scheme of things. The same for their schools. The only thing that matters is the county development squad. It is inevitable then that when the chop comes many of these players find it difficult to deal with. The club often suffers too as young players have been programmed to think that loyalty to your club or school is not important relative to the great god of county development teams. The fallout is often a problem with player retention. This runaway train needs to be reeled in by county executives.

If you build up young people with some great dream and then pull the plug then of course there will be fallout. However, part of this is also a societal issue. Even the education system seems to believe that you cannot fail at exams anymore. It is this make-believe world which leads to mental health issues.

Life is about failure and getting on with things - it is called resilience and reality. The GAA teaches that - you win some, you lose some. You learn to deal with great days but more often days of disappointment. That's life.

The elitism of development squads insulates many young players from this for a while and then often delivers a blow to the solar plexus later on. Most of the time young players are better off with their clubs, playing good competitive matches against players of similar ability. County development squads should be an opportunity to get high-quality specialised coaching. It is an add-on, not a substitute, and certainly should not be seen as an ego trip for some manager with notions.

The report also highlights the importance of enjoyment, that playing is an experience which can be positive most of the time. Nobody likes losing and that is reflected in young players from a young age, without any encouragement, but adults should not be trying to live their dreams through young players' eyes. The word 'play' means exactly that, and wining at all costs - or even any cost - should be seen in terms of player development rather than an end in itself.

This report is invaluable. Once again a light has been shone on elitism and some of the dark sides involved. With so many recent reports from counties showing varying degrees of financial trouble, there is an opportunity for every county board to rebalance the development squads vis-a-vis clubs and save themselves a shed load of money in the process.

It would also restore the core values of the GAA, which have been lost in commercialisation along the way.

Congratulations to the committee for this report. The members were Michael Dempsey, Jenny Duffy, Jeffrey Lynskey, Jason Sherlock, Shane Flanagan, Dr Eugene Young, Ray O'Brien, Garrett Coyle, Brian Cuthbert, Fergal O'Donnell and Jamesie O'Connor. You have all done the GAA some service.

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