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It's difficult to begrudge GAA's leading lights their financial perks

GAA A-listers like Colm Cooper deserve to cash in on their fame at the end of their careers

Given the type of business I am in you could say that relationships are very much part of my everyday schedule.

I studied hard for my A-levels, achieved my Honours degree at university and, after this again, spent a further three-and-a-half years studying for my professional accountancy chartered exams while in full-time employment.

It was a very tough road and, when you are trying to establish a county and club career, juggling all this and more is not easy.

I am now a business banker and I try to lend money to existing and new businesses. When I do a deal, I get a buzz from it.

I get personal satisfaction when I help a family business grow or oversee the construction of new office premises or a housing development.

Overall, though, the fundamental reason why I do this is due in no small part to the receipt of

a salary.

However, sometimes in our professions we all have to go above and beyond for customers or clients.

I have found that it is not always about the money. Moreover, in my opinion, this is how you differentiate yourself in life, either professionally or in the sporting environment. It is no different in Gaelic Games. Trust is earned.

I am aware that today, rural parishes and, in particular, GAA communities remain affected by a stagnant construction sector, no infrastructural investment from the government and mass emigration.

As a professional, I am also aware that I had been somewhat shielded from the recession’s full effects too.

As a banker, it probably wasn’t the most popular career choice as it easily became as detested a profession as that of Shylock or the biblical tax collector.

I was fortunate enough to secure employment in the banking industry after 2010 when the sector had already felt the aftershocks of the global credit crunch.

The job, at the time, helped to facilitate my primary objective and that was to focus on and play inter-county football for as long as possible.

The job also helped to balance my club/county commitments with professional development and allowed me precious time to spend at home with my family – an especially tough time back then.

Within the company at the time, a number of quality players like Kieran Donaghy, Kevin McGuckin and Karl Lacey all took up similar appointments.

I guess, like me, it allowed them to concentrate on inter-county football commitments while still earning a salary.

Since 2010, most of these lads have all left banking for one reason or another. There was no doubt that the profession served its purpose, but they decided to pursue other avenues.

It facilitated their extra-curricular careers, for want of a better term.

You have a school of thought out there who think of you as a privileged graduate, a banker who provided an umbrella to the people when it was sunny and took it back when it began to rain.

Quite the opposite, though, our jobs had one common theme – it was a personal lifestyle choice taken up with good intentions.

However, as a professional in the field of banking, I have never felt like the job description defined me. Likewise, as a footballer, one or two games never defined my career either.

So defining a person by his profession or, more specifically, his career in sport, is not easily done. Like life itself, people are much more complex than that.

What is the point, you may ask? Well, most recently, a number of books are hitting the shelves in preparation for Christmas, I presume. ‘The Gooch’ and Philly McMahon’s book The Choice are two for starters.

It seems like the natural course of action for a retired footballer these days. In fact, in many cases, you don’t even have to retire.

When the testimonial for ‘The Gooch’ was announced, I had originally assumed all money was going to charity.

However, when this appeared not to be the case, I felt a bit uneasy about it at first.

If you were to further delve into the small print, after accounting for the corporate sponsors and advertising, I would assume that ‘The Gooch’ will come out of the function quite well, financially.

One over-riding emotion was also jealousy. I am sure I would find it difficult to sell out a testimonial dinner in a telephone box never mind Croke Park.

I equally put my own professional career on hold and relinquished trips to the USA when I could have financially bettered myself. I never did.

The other emotion is good old-fashioned begrudgery. Why is ‘The Gooch’ any more entitled to a testimonial than Benny Coulter or John Doyle who carried Down and Kildare respectively for years?

Kerry were well guaranteed a Munster quarter-final and All-Ireland quarter-final every year given their provincial system.

‘The Gooch’ had perfect opportunities and chances to shine, year in, year out.

Place that same player into Ulster Championship football and the question is Would the opportunities have been there for him? I am not sure they would have been.

When you consider our heritage, I sometimes feel automatic negative emotions pass genetically from our parents and ancestors and rarely do we ever celebrate successes, unlike most other cultures.

‘The Gooch’, no doubt, has made lifestyle choices and, as a result, he probably feels he has missed out financially.

He has also made sacrifices too and the offer of a couple of hundred thousand euros to distribute how he sees fit is his prerogative.

In his shoes, if someone were to hand me a pile of money to turn up at a dinner, tell a few yarns and take a few photos, I’d probably take their arm off as well as their hand.

It could well make a real positive difference to my life and my family’s lives, as indeed it would for many others in this country.

I do understand, though, why the volunteer feels a testimonial is a step too far.

These people may well be better GAA people than ‘The Gooch’ or me in many cases. However, men like ‘The Gooch’, Philly McMahon, Kieran Donaghy and Tony Griffin are fundamentally good people who have had to make choices in their lives, many sacrifices that many more unknown players continue to make today.

I have no issue with them making money off the back of the GAA, yet it is becoming harder and harder to differentiate between them and the opportunistic people who use the GAA system for their own benefit.

While my career choice certainly doesn’t define me as a person, a testimonial dinner for ‘The Gooch’ should not define him either. He is making a choice for himself and his family, for a better life after all the sacrifices down the years.

More importantly, I don’t think it belittles the volunteer, nor do I think was this the intention. I think he is doing it for himself and, in the GAA world, this is still an uneasy concept. Yet sometimes you just have to say ‘Good luck to him’.

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