Thursday 18 January 2018

Martin Breheny: Critics of Gooch's testimonial are guilty of breathtaking hypocrisy

The argument that ‘Gooch’ is tarnishing the GAA’s image as an amateur organisation, rooted in the community and belonging to everybody, is utterly facile. Photo: Sportsfile
The argument that ‘Gooch’ is tarnishing the GAA’s image as an amateur organisation, rooted in the community and belonging to everybody, is utterly facile. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If you were to heed some of the comments on Colm Cooper's testimonial dinner later this month, you would think that a man whose conduct during a long inter-county career had been as close to exemplary as is possible had turned into a dangerous enemy of the GAA State.

'Gooch', we're being told, is setting a dangerous precedent by agreeing to an event where tables of ten cost €5,000 each, with the proceeds benefiting Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Kerry Cancer Support Group, and himself.

The main critics are former players, loftily dispensing their concerns via various media outlets, where they earn tidy amounts of money. Happy to exploit their playing careers for commercial gain, which is fair enough, they are now seeking to broaden their sphere of influence by ruling on the limits which should apply to others.

Clearly, in their view, it's okay for former players to make money from the media but not from a testimonial, which will also raise funds for two very worthy causes.

A case perhaps of climbing into the ivory tower, pulling up the ladder and deciding what those on the ground should be allowed to do.

The argument that 'Gooch' is tarnishing the GAA's image as an amateur organisation, rooted in the community and belonging to everybody, is utterly facile.

Yes, his testimonial dinner will be the first of its kind in the GAA but it's no more than a small extension of the commercialism that has been advancing through the organisation for a long time.

It's unstoppable and, in my view, will eventually lead to some form of pay-for-play.

That may not come in the next five or ten years but as brick after brick is removed from the amateur wall, it's surely only a matter of time before no barrier remains.

What impact that would have on the GAA is debatable but, whatever the outcome, it's difficult to see any way of avoiding it, especially since the rate of change has been so rapid since the start of the Millennium.

Those who decry the 'Gooch' testimonial appear happy to orbit in parallel universes.

They are appalled by the idea of a player, who served his county so well for 15 seasons, profiting from a function which also benefits charities, but appear to have no issue with other money-making methods.

Where's the difference in a supposedly amateur organisation?

Given the increase in the number of former players in press boxes, it can only be a matter of time before they outnumber journalists. Is that not capitalising on playing careers, just as 'Gooch' is doing with his testimonial?

Current players from successful counties are making money too, whether through endorsements, becoming brand ambassadors, sponsored interviews, free cars, holidays and other various means.

How much have Dublin footballers made over their last five very successful years? Obviously, it varies, but those at the top end of the market have reaped - and continued to do so - a bountiful harvest.

Indeed, their yield is probably a whole lot more than 'Gooch' will earn from his testimonial. Why is that not being queried with equal vehemence by the 'Gooch' busters?

And what of managers - both at county and club level - who are being paid well above the expense rates allowed under rule?

It has been going on for years, with every curtailment effort failing because the deals were made inside the Association itself, usually with the backing of county boards who were supposed to be applying the rules.

Money is sloshing in all directions in certain areas of GAA life, yet when 'Gooch' takes it in a new direction, he comes under attack from people who are exploiting their own good fortune in having enjoyed excellent careers. It's the ultimate in hypocrisy.

Making money from direct involvement in the GAA is either acceptable or it's not. Actually, that's a futile argument now since it has become a part of life. There will be no going back to the old days.

There's great uncertainty as to what lies ahead but, in the meantime, singling out 'Gooch' and portraying him as self-serving and greedy is downright unfair.

If enough companies and individuals are happy to pay up for a testimonial dinner, why should others object?

Yes, Cooper will earn some money but Crumlin Hospital and cancer services in Kerry will also benefit from the night.

It would be all very different if full-blown amateurism continued to apply in the GAA. It hasn't for a very long time.

Irish Independent

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