Wednesday 25 April 2018

Ger Gilroy: It's better to have Irish kids buy GAA jerseys with squad numbers rather than English ones

Dublin’s Dean Rock, wearing No 20, takes on Wexford’s Colm Kehoe during last weekend’s O’Byrne Cup clash in Enniscorthy, Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Dean Rock, wearing No 20, takes on Wexford’s Colm Kehoe during last weekend’s O’Byrne Cup clash in Enniscorthy, Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Ger Gilroy

A tiny revolution happened in a January game of football at the weekend. Dublin used squad numbers against Wexford in Enniscorthy and will apparently persist with them for the duration of the O'Byrne Cup.

Jim Gavin was quoted afterwards as saying that he hopes it might be the way of the future and may also help generate extra income "from a commercial perspective, for county boards, it might be something to promote the elite players in their counties."

At this point in our history is there anyone who will disagree with this?

Unfortunately, there are those who will point out that it will also help generate revenue for the players and this is 'a bad thing' and a bridge to professionalism. So therefore, the argument bleats, we must fight tooth and nail to prevent squad numbers and eventually names on the back of jerseys.

Vincent Hogan's thoughtful piece on the mute GAA players we encounter during the season in this paper last weekend was a reminder of the culture which fears squad numbers and names on jerseys and players just shooting the breeze.

It's rooted in fear of expression, a fear of youthful confidence and a terror of the unknown and uncontrollable.

The thing is though that life has a way of finding the cracks and progress happens whether you're ready or not.

Waterford last season weren't wedded to 1 to 15 numbers, Dublin in the O'Byrne Cup take it a step further and at least a debate gets started.

Hopefully Dublin persist and others follow suit and GAA jersey sales increase. The kids are buying jerseys anyway, it may as well be their local teams as a soccer team from Spain or England.

Clearly with the advent of squad numbers image rights become important.

Suddenly there's a measurable uptick in a player's fame and his jersey is selling like crazy. It's being used with or without his photo and it's a signifier of his endorsement. Shaky ground. Who makes the money?

Here's where the players need to be well advised and to earn their fair share.

At some point the TV deal will have to kick money into a pot for the players like it does in almost every other sport watched by big audiences and paid for by broadcasters with big budgets. There's no doubt a players' union must have its eye at some point on this revenue source.

A world where all the GAA revenues were distributed equally, either on a population pro-rata or a strict per-need basis, is probably an unachievable ideal at this point, but it's not too late to get a handle on merchandising, image rights or including players in broadcast deals.

It's the players most people want to see; realising they deserve recognition is a first step. Squad numbers alone don't get us there, but they're a signpost on the road. GG

Irish Independent

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