Saturday 20 January 2018

Loyalty clash leaves our international players in a bind

Every effort should have been made to get our best team to Australia, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

As eACH day passes and more and more players are being placed in a bind about whether to travel to Australia or stay at home and finish club championships, I am reminded of one of The Clash's great hits: Should I Stay or Should I Go.

I was not big into punk rock myself as a safety pin through the upper lip was something any self-respecting corner-back would be sure to grab, so I thought it safer to stick with Boxcar Willie or Willie Nelson. Still, that particular number lodged in my mind.

Darran O'Sullivan, Stephen Cluxton and a few more could dig up that old song as it was obviously written with this year's international rules trip in mind.

One line in the song: 'if I go, there will be trouble' reflects exactly the position quite a few players find themselves in. And it is very unfair on them. After giving a season, or maybe many of them, to their clubs, they now find themselves having to choose between club and country. It is Hobson's choice. Players will stay with their clubs but it does undermine the whole concept of the international rules if team manager Anthony Tohill does not know exactly who is travelling five days before the first Test, never mind what the team should be.

As manager of this team over ten years ago, I saw at first hand what it means to players to represent their country. They long for that opportunity and whether or not you are a fan of the series (and the numbers who admire the matches are probably falling), there is no getting away from the fact that it is the only chance our footballers have of wearing an Ireland jersey. That means a great deal to players who have the same or even greater pride in their country as elite sportsmen and women from other codes where international representation is taken as a given.

Naturally, a trip down under is an attractive part of the whole event but players make themselves available in Ireland too and try their best wherever the games are played. There is a disciplined approach taken. It is also a fantastically educational and enjoyable experience. Being able to see at first hand some of the best practice in Aussie rules is worth travelling for alone and it is something that coaches in the GAA can always benefit from.

The real question that should be asked is why some counties cannot finish their county championships on time. In the cases of Dublin and Kerry, there are valid excuses, particularly in Dublin who not only were involved in the senior final but also minor football and hurling, while the under 21 hurlers also added to their woes.

The definition of uncertainty must be a club footballer in Dublin. In the case of the Brogans, they nailed their colours to the mast quickly and are not allowing any other competitions get in the way of their quest for the cherry on the cake as they look to win a first Dublin championship with Oliver Plunketts.

A little bit of flexibility would have allowed O'Sullivan to travel. It is not as if the players are going in the same way as the convict ships a century ago when the journey took six weeks.

In fairness, the Ulster Council moved quickly to facilitate Michael Murphy by playing his Ulster club game last week and holding off the next round until he is back. Now, of course, there are those who are opposed to international rules and for them Australia is not half far enough away. They associate it with Van Diemen's Land, modern Tasmania, where many Irishmen found themselves -- and it had nothing to do with playing football.

A few years ago there was a big worry that this series was giving the Australians a great opportunity of coming here and hoovering up some of our best talent. It nearly appeared as if they were being taken away in chains instead of opting to follow their dreams. Now things are a bit different and a lot of players would jump at the chance of getting a crack at being a professional footballer.

The reality, of course, is that there are very few who will make it. The rest return home and are generally better players as a result of their experiences. For every Tadhg Kennelly who makes it, there are probably 20 who don't and if Tommy Walsh had not tried his hand under the southern cross, the constellation of stars which is very important to the Aboriginal people, then Kerry would have had another trump card in the All-Ireland final. As it is, he is on the move to Sydney from Melbourne so even the best Irish players find making the breakthrough difficult.

So as players leave, yesterday, today and tomorrow, as circumstances permit, they are not some type of chain gang who have been sent on a one-way ticket. These players have pride in themselves and are brave enough to risk, not altogether life and limb but at least injury, to be part of an Irish team.

That deserves a little more respect than is being given at the moment and is unfair on Anthony Tohill who must have run up a colossal phone bill over the last couple of weeks trying to establish exactly who was available. And, as so often is the case in the GAA, one arm of the organisation was not being much help to another. The independent republics of club, county and country remained so.

And all the time The Clash keep asking the same awkward question -- should I stay or should I go?

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