Neil McManus says Stormont should support inter-county players in the same way as Irish government does

Antrim hurler Neil McManus joined the national executive of the Gaelic Players Association last week Picture by Seamus Loughran

NEIL McManus claims there is “a huge ignorance” within the GAA surrounding the work of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and feels that any new Stormont executive should consider supporting inter-county players in the same way as the Irish government does.

A GPA players’ representative of the Antrim senior hurlers for the last six years, McManus joined the association’s national executive last week.

“The main reason why I joined the national executive was because I feel GAA players are the most undervalued group of people in our country. I genuinely believe that,” he said.

“There are so many other disciplines and sports that are getting funding and the GPA is having to fight tooth and nail for the grant that they get from the Irish government.

“The northern government should support us as well; look at what we’re doing, look at what the people are putting into their communities because of what they’ve learned through the GAA.

“Look at Slaughtneil and what they’ve contributed to their community – it’s inspiring.

“We’re part of the community. Some other sports tend not to be. People that go to the Olympic Games or the Commonwealth Games are not having the same impact in their communities as GAA players.

“We are part of the community, part of the parish… That’s why I think we’re hugely undervalued.

“I also think the government in the north should be giving assistance, financially [to GAA players], along with the Irish government.”

The Cushendall man has praised the work of the players’ union for helping him in his sporting and professional career – but feels that many inter-county players don’t know of the extensive range of services that are at their disposal.

McManus believes his passion for hurling was all-consuming that his professional career suffered as a result.

“It was my goal before I knew what goal-setting was that I wanted to play senior hurling for Cushendall. Then my father was taking me to county games I wanted to play for Antrim. That was my drive.

“That would be very similar to 90 per cent of GAA players – to emulate those who were representing their club whenever they were kids.

“I didn’t grow up wanting to play for Ballymena United. I played a bit of soccer like many other GAA players but it didn’t mean anything to me. I wanted to play hurling for Antrim and Cushendall.

“I would never run anybody down who wanted to play soccer or rugby because of the financial gain that is there to be made because times are tough.

“If somebody can help pay off their mortgage through the sport they’re playing – more power to them.

“Many GAA people could go and play professional sport but that’s not where their passion is.

“More so than financially, the GPA is there to support players outside of their sporting careers, in terms

of the programmes that are available – supporting them in a health and well-being way and encouraging players to educate themselves to the highest level that you possibly can, and to continue learning.

“I don’t think you should stop learning just because you’re an inter-county hurler. I was a bad example of that for my first six or seven years with Antrim.

“I went through university, I got a job but I didn’t push myself any further because my every thought was hurling.

“I studied at Jordanstown and if I was coming down a flight of stairs I was thinking about how I could catch a high ball. That’s the truth.

“I wasn’t thinking about how I can maximise my potential to get the best job. I’d say that’s a very common thing [among GAA players].

“Over the last couple of years I’ve learned that there’s a big extension of my life to go here, and I want to be as successful as I can in my career as well as in my sporting life.”

McManus also recalls how the GPA’s services helped save a player’s life and hopes more inter-county players will avail of the association’s services in the coming seasons.

“I remember sitting at a GPA AGM and one of the fellas told the story how its services saved his life,” said McManus.

“He used the counselling service as he was suffering from depression. A message came through to his phone about availing of these services and it happened at the right time for him. He rang the number and he got help.

“I don’t know of a more powerful example of how the GPA can help its members.

“But I think there’s a huge ignorance out there about what the GPA does and what they actually provide – and I’d say it’s the same for a lot of inter-county footballers and hurlers too. These programmes are available for players to be the best that they can be in sport and their lives outside of sport.”

Meanwhile, McManus has heaped praise on the Antrim County Board ahead of tonight’s county convention where chairman Collie Donnelly and vice-chairman Terry Reilly face challenges from Jim McLean and Columb Walsh.

“The new county board has been in place for two years now and they’re remarkably easy to work with. I would even go as far as to say I’m proud of them,” said the 29-year-old.

“The people in the positions at the minute are successful people in their own field and the amount of work that’s going on behind the scenes means that it’s going to be an absolute joy for the next generation.

“I can honestly say Antrim hurlers want for nothing.”

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