Wednesday 17 October 2018

Old dogs are mad for more hard road in Masters finale

Eamonn O’Hara, here in action earlier in the campign, will line out for Sligo against Mayo in All-Ireland Masters final in Ballymote today
Eamonn O’Hara, here in action earlier in the campign, will line out for Sligo against Mayo in All-Ireland Masters final in Ballymote today
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

You know about the GPA and you've likely heard of the CPA, two organisations lobbying on behalf of their section of the broader GAA membership. But what of the GMA?

There won't be much fanfare but the Gaelic Masters Association will host their showpiece event today when Sligo take on reigning champions Mayo in Ballymote in the All-Ireland Masters final at 2.45.

The game will be preceded by the Shield clash between Galway and Tyrone.

It's not an official GAA event. Croke Park disbanded the over-40s football series in 2009 after running it for nearly 20 years.

It wasn't a high-profile competition by any stretch but the competition still had its dedicated following who wanted it back.

Mayo native John Pat Sheridan brought motions to Congress through his club to have the competition reinstated in 2010 and 2011, but their plea fell on deaf ears.

They lobbied Croke Park but in the end, they decided to go it alone and formed the GMA.

Brave

It was a brave move and one that was far from straightforward. Running a competition without the express permission of the GAA brings significant complications.

Access to grounds vested in the GAA is something of a grey area, so they look to use community pitches like the one in Ballymote.

Insurance was also an issue so they took out their own public liability policy to cover their games. And with everything in order, they ran the competition themselves for the first time in 2012.

"We had tried at Congress and it was defeated and in early 2012 we decided we had to do something," recalls GMA chairman Sheridan. "We got it up and running that year."

Five counties competed that first year and the interest has rocketed since. Numbers have grown steadily and this year 15 teams took part, including London.

"The logistics are tricky and they have had to be creative. For example, when there was expressions of interest from within Longford and Leitrim, but neither had the numbers on their own this time around, it was decided that the two counties should merge to form one team.

"It's worked out really well and next Saturday, they'll contest the Plate final against Kildare.

It all costs money of course but much of the expense will be covered by the membership fees paid by the players, while the London panel forked out more than £300 (€340) each to cover the costs of their flights and registration.

They'll run a gate today, too, and slowly but surely, the sides are attracting sponsorship.

"It's difficult to run it without the support of the GAA. But we have gotten great support from clubs and people at the grass roots. I think they see the value in it."

For Sheridan, it's easy to see why people are so keen to get involved. It's an outlet for a footballer that just isn't catered for within the GAA.

The mental health side of things is important to them too and as such, the GMA have partnered up with charity Aware.

"You are dealing with lads here who have maybe been in a team environment and a dressing-room for most of their lives. Then suddenly it's gone and it leaves a big gap. The health benefits in terms of staying fit and the mental side of it are significant too."

This afternoon, there'll be everything from former All-Stars on show to players who have never worn the county jersey before.

Some will even have played for an Irish representative side against the AFL Masters side that came here last year.

As the years have moved on, it has become more competitive. Eamonn O'Hara, Paul Taylor and Dessie Sloyan will line out for Sligo as will Michael Moyles, who ironically won an All-Ireland club medal with Mayo outfit Crossmolina.

Mayo will turn to the likes of Aidan Higgins and Kenneth Mortimer, while former All-Star Declan Meehan will be in action for Galway in the Shield final.

There have already been more expressions of interest from other counties looking to take part. The logistics will be difficult but the GMA are determined to provide football for as many as possible.

For Sheridan, playing as long as possible is the goal.

"We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing."

Irish Independent

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