Friday 15 December 2017

GAA betting crisis: 'I missed all our team talk to see if I won my bet'

Endless betting opportunites leave the GAA facing crisis as lure of easy money tempts players

Not even the sanctity of the GAA is free from a flutter
Not even the sanctity of the GAA is free from a flutter

Michael Verney

"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned." Fast Eddie Felson, The Color of Money

For a nation intrinsically linked with gambling, temptation is always around the corner with endless betting opportunities. Not even the sanctity of the GAA is free from a flutter.

A state of "crisis" was declared by Galway chief Noel Treacy last week with more and more bets wagered on GAA matches, many of which betray the morality of the organisation.

Gambling is a mental obsession and our national games are not exempt from investigation as it becomes increasingly apparent that there are no boundaries when it comes to making a quick buck.

Just like any other addiction, people will do not anything to get what they want, no matter how extreme. A Munster club player told the Irish Independent about how one particular GAA punt drove him to distraction.

"I was hurling senior for the club on a Saturday evening as part of a double header and we were playing in the second game. I had a monster bet on a team in the first game but obviously it wasn't really possible to watch it," he explains.

"We were preparing for our own game but I decided to go into a toilet and look out through a tiny window where I could see most of the field. I missed the whole team talk in order to watch the end of the other game.

"I went out and hurled and I was never as bad. I couldn't get my head into it because of the nerves after watching my bet in-running earlier. I told the manager afterwards that I felt sick with nerves, but it wasn't pre-match nerves."

Unlike other addictions like drugs and alcohol, the effects of betting are hidden. No-one knows whether you've won or lost, but the lies can eat away.

Lies to themselves, lies to others regularly, anything will be done to feed the habit. Even pursuits that tugged your heart-strings since childhood lose their appeal and need to be spiced up.

A Leinster club hurler spoke of a €600 bet he had on a horse which coincided with a challenge game. After contemplating "pulling a sickie", the forward played the game, but he needn't have bothered.

"The game became irrelevant because of the punt," he admits. "One eye was on the ball, the other on the boys on the sideline waiting for the result. I'd hoped this yoke would do the business and then I'll be flying and score 1-5.

"Neither happened of course. But it was only a practice match! Were it a Championship game I probably would have felt a bit of guilt."

But unlike many others, he feels he would revel in the extra weight of betting on himself in action, saying: "It would depend on the particular match but I wouldn't count it out.

"I would definitely bet on myself if I fancied it. Plus I like the pressure, it would mean more to me. If I had money on it I would do everything to win, it would improve my performance."

Teams regularly back themselves to win titles for extra motivation, as if winning wasn't enough. And one player even commented that the buzz of collecting county final bet winnings was better than collecting the trophy.

Jim McGuinness wrote in his autobiography that some Donegal players fancied themselves to upset Dublin in 2014 so they let their wallets do the talking. Other managers encourage bets as declarations of confidence.

As a county player, one is privy to inside information equivalent to that of a horse racing trainer. For 'first goalscorer' markets, you know where players will start as opposed to where they are named.

Is the form good in the camp? Will they cover the handicap? You have privileged knowledge, you're aware of how you've been training on the gallops and that information can be dangerous. And just like studying the form of horses, you're coming in contact with other teams.

A former inter-county footballer takes up the story: "We played a practice match before the qualifiers and absolutely hammered another county team," he said.

"They played the following week and most of the our boys pounded their opposition in the bookies. Sure we would've been fools not to, it was money for jam and one of the few perks of playing county at the time."

While the above are all ill-advised, they are technically not breaking any rules. But there are sinister motives at play underneath the surface.

Bets are rarely available on dead rubber games anymore because of 'unusual' betting activity and 'obscure' results. One springs to mind with subsequent county champions falling to relegation strugglers, registering just seven points.

Their dead-eye free-takers, lethal from the right and left sides, had a 'day to forget', or remember, given your interpretation. With free-taking responsibility comes opportunity.

College players have been known to have an 'off day' in front of the posts when the money was down on their opponents, while novelty bets have led to peculiar happenings.

One All-Ireland-winning hurler spotted a gap, with betting available on 'a hurl to be broken at the throw-in'. Cue a hurl so fragile that a gentle breeze would break it to pieces and you're on the way to the payout desk.

Similarly, betting on which team is to reappear last after half-time is ridiculously easy to manipulate. Why dangle temptation in front of people? And players aren't the only ones who are susceptible. Refereeing can become a minefield with betting available on the number of frees, yellow cards, red cards, first team to score etc - all determined by the blow of a whistle.

Famously, bets were once offered on the number of minutes of injury-time to be played in the second half of All-Ireland finals, but the bookmakers quickly learned their lesson.

And what of Hawk-Eye? Odds on whether the points detection technology will be used can easily be exploited. There are countless opportunities, by fair or foul means, to try get one over on the bookmakers and feel that buzz.

Is there any other amateur sport where the betting possibilities are so frequent? It's no surprise more and more GAA players are getting sucked into the gambling vortex with no end in sight unless action is taken.

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