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GAA’s about play, not pay

Last update - Thursday, July 30, 2009, 12:57 By Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

The summer sports schedule in Ireland is generally dominated by the GAA championships, with numerous high profile games held every weekend right across the country. In times of economic recession, it can come as a welcome relief to pull on your replica county jersey, make your way to whatever ground you frequent and to scream your lungs out in support of your team.

It is remarkable that the ‘championship’ – as the All-Ireland competition is generally known – reduces even the most respectable, articulate and well-educated individuals to red-faced lunatics wishing hell and eternal damnation on opposition players, management, and (of course) the referee.
But even for neutral fans, the games are enjoyable and are a particularly good way of spending a weekend afternoon. The hurling championship this year has been particularly good, with counties such as Dublin having a longer than expected run in the competition.
There is nothing, in my estimation, like the red-hot thrill of a high-tempo match on a blistering sunny Croke Park Sunday, with two teams giving absolutely everything in the quest to further their ambitions – especially is you are surrounded by supporters who love their game and can banter knowingly about every move, substitution and positional switch.
In recent years the professional nature of these amateur games has intensified, with sponsorship deals and television rights being bought and sold for ever-increasing multitudes of millions, while GAA players are now a regular feature in advertisements for sports drinks or other commercial products – something once strictly forbidden.
Such developments have led to the current impasse between the GAA and the Gaelic Players Association (GPA), which is likely to define the presidency of the newly elected GAA chief Christy Cooney. The overall objective of the GPA remains unclear, but to my mind an inevitable split will occur between the elite players who have to make (self-enforced) sacrifices to represent their counties, and the ordinary members of the association who promote the games at the grass-roots level.
Last Wednesday I attended a challenge women’s football match in Clontarf between home team Scoil Ui Chonaill and Naomh Mearnog. The Portmarnock side had been on a run of bad form, not having won a game in three years, and the Clontarf outfit were preparing for a championship semi-final. To see the honest endeavour of the players, management and club officials was inspiring. Naomh Mearnog won the game comfortably in the end and the delight of the girls that their losing streak had come to an end was wonderful to witness.
That is the true nature of what the GAA is all about – grass-roots organisations playing sport for the sake of playing sport. The GPA are opening themselves up to a charge of elitism, and while everyone would agree that players should be well-treated for the efforts they make, they should also appreciate that no-one is holding a gun to their heads and demanding that they play.
If the women of Scoil Ui Chonaill and Naomh Mearnog are competing for the honour of their clubs and the glory of sport, then our honoured inter-county players can do the same. The adulation of the sporting public – and the lucrative sponsorship deals they get – should be compensation enough.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is a primary school principal in the Sheriff Street area of Dublin, and Labour councillor for Dublin’s Clontarf ward. His column appears every week in Metro Éireann

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