GAA must do more to halt talent drain, says McEneaney
Tommy Freeman could be out coaching on the fields of Monaghan and beyond this summer, instead of jetting to New York and leaving more than a decade of inter-county football behind him.
That's the view of Monaghan manager Eamonn McEneaney, who has been lobbying for some years that the GAA take a much more proactive approach to employment for top players who are out of work.
McEneaney believes the inter-county game could lose many more stars to emigration over the next few years.
His Monaghan squad has been decimated by retirements and unavailability ahead of the Ulster championship, which was launched in Belfast yesterday.
JP Mone, Damien Freeman, Rory Woods and Gary McQuaid have all either retired or made themselves unavailable, but it is the loss of Freeman, an All Star in 2007, that stands out above the rest -- he is arguably the highest-profile footballer to leave these shores in search of work.
"Tommy has made up his mind to go (to New York)," said McEneaney. "You live in hope that something might change his mind, but certainly it is a much better deal for him than what he is getting here. He is going to be looked after, basically."
A carpenter by trade, Freeman has found work difficult to come by, hence the move which has been mooted since the end of last year.
"It is something that the GAA need to look at, and see can they improve the association by putting in more coaches that are inter-county players, which might keep them at home. It might work in our favour to help people out like that," said McEneaney.
"Probably, the funding is not there at the moment to do it within Monaghan, but it is certainly something that could be looked at on a national basis, where all counties could in some way receive funds for the coaching end of things that would help keep the likes of Tommy in a job and keep the likes of him at home.
"In Tommy's case, no job, 30 years of age, he has to look to the future, and when he gets a chance like the one that he has been offered it is very hard to turn it down."
Thus there is little prospect of Freeman being available for Monaghan again.
"I don't blame Tommy for doing what he is doing. He is going to be a loss and I would love to have him, but I have to focus on the players that are there.
"And they are working very hard, taking up the slack, if you like, since he left -- there has been an increased work-load coming from them."
Freeman resumed training after some doubts over his future in February and played in some of the league matches as Monaghan were relegated.
Monaghan have also lost the other Freeman, Damien, since the league ended and McEneaney, who faced challenges when he was Louth boss, can understand the situation.
"The future looks bleak for an awful lot of kids, and even boys who are in college that might be coming out that are promising footballers are going to have to look elsewhere," he said.
The loss of such a core of experienced players will destabilise one of the more settled teams in Ulster, and McEneaney admits that much of the work now is about the future.
"This year, when we started off, we had only two players that played in the Ulster final (last year). It was always going to be a rebuilding process and it was always a case that some of those were never going to make it back," he said.
"The one thing that we learned from the league is that we are good enough but not clever enough yet. The games against Armagh and Dublin especially were games that we threw away, we had the opportunities to win it."