'Match-fixing could easily become a big problem in the GAA'
Having faced up to gambling issues, McConville and McNamee warn players can fall victim to temptation
TWO inter-county footballers who have successfully dealt with a gambling addiction have warned that the GAA can never be so complacent as to believe that its games will be immune to match-fixing in the future.
Less than a week after director-general Paraic Duffy addressed the issue in his annual report, former Armagh footballer Oisin McConville and current Offaly captain Niall McNamee have stressed that it is possible for games to be arranged a certain way to correspond with particular bets.
McConville and McNamee, who both went public with their gambling problems in the past, were in Croke Park yesterday to lend support to an initiative between the GAA and the Gaelic Players Association to highlight the perils of excessive gambling among members.
Within the GAA, match-fixing – ie, improperly influencing the outcome of a game for your or another person's financial gain – could fall under the rule covering 'misconduct considered to have discredited the Association' for which there is a minimum eight-week ban.
A new education and awareness programme is aimed at highlighting the dangers for GAA players with gambling.
It was revealed that a staggering one in every three who contacted the GPA's free counselling service last year made the call in relation to problem gambling.
Some 7pc of respondents to a survey among the 2,045 GPA members believe there is a gambling problem among their own squad while 23pc believe there is a problem among GAA players generally. McConville, who became hooked within a couple of years of placing his first bet on the Grand National at the age of 14, admitted it was like a "runaway train" for him.
"It was just like I had to gamble. I wanted to gamble. I was attracted to it, it was somewhere I felt I fitted in – the bookies. It was a life that I found attractive and wanted to lead," he said.
"That stopped a number of years later but by that stage it was an addiction. It was something I felt I had to do every day. I couldn't arrest it. It was just like that runaway train and I couldn't stop it.
McConville suggested there were "lots of high-profile players who are in bother, serious bother," but he doubted that any element of match-fixing had taken place up to now.
"The greatest danger is if we go down the road where a couple of players get together and try to influence the result of a game," he said.
"Let's hope we can nip that in the bud before it actually happens. There have been a lot of high-profile cases in cricket and soccer or whatever where that has happened. I can't imagine why the GAA would be any different."
McConville admitted he was tempted to gamble on games he was involved in but stopped himself because bets he placed usually lost!
Crossmaglen's new joint-manager reasons that problem gambling is not so much an issue for the GAA as it is for society in general.
"One of the more startling facts that I've seen this last while is that for every eight people that gamble, one will gamble compulsively.
"It's quite startling when you take it like that.
"Gambling is far more accessible than it's ever been, it can be off an iPhone or a text message or it can be internet or whatever it is."
McNamee believes desperation could force players into trying to fix matches or influence them in some way in the future.
"I wouldn't see why not. Gambling can bring you to a stage where you're absolutely desperate. It was something that I never did (have a bet on a match he was involved in) but I was lucky in that I stopped gambling in November 2011," he said.
"I don't know what would have happened if I had continued gambling for another year.
"I could have got to that stage where I need 'x' amount of money, how asked how I going to make it.
"There is one thing I can do that I have some control over. If a person gets into that much trouble and they don't see any way out, that could be an option.
"What we're trying to do here is to get people talking.
"You're not going to change it overnight. You're not going to say 'Right, you're not allowed gamble on football games any more if you're playing.' It will take time."
McNamee warned that gambling within a squad can start quite easily.
"I know of games gone by where lads might back themselves to score the first point and that might seem harmless and it probably is harmless," he said.
"But if that kicks on and it did end up that you relied on gambling as a source of income or it was your life, I wouldn't see why it wouldn't go any further."
In launching the initiative, GAA president Liam O'Neill recounted hearing on the morning of the All-Ireland final how he was priced at 12/1 by one firm to drop the Sam Maguire Cup at the presentation later that day.
Highlighting the range of bets that now exist among bookmakers, O'Neill admitted he was conscious of the nature of the bet and the charge that may have been laid against him had he actually dropped it.