Danny Hughes: Welfare report is welcome but players are tired of not being paid

Elish Kelly, Senior Research Officer, ESRI; Alan Barrett, Director of the ESRI; Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan; and Seamus Hickey, CEO of the GPA, during the launch of the ESRI report Picture by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

THE Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) recently published a report on the effects of inter-county football on our players which is merely adding more credence to statements many ex-county players have been making for years now.

Commitment to the inter-county game has waned for the vast majority of players. The big problem here is that no current inter-county player is ever going to put their head above the parapet and rightly ask the question ‘well, what's in it for me?'

Currently in both local soccer's Premiership and the Premier Division in the south, there are some Gaelic football players receiving anywhere from £50 to £1,000 per week for playing soccer in some of the top teams, all under contract.

Let's face it, at some of our league and championship club matches, there could be twice as many spectators than the attendance at Premiership matches in the north and a Premier Division game in the south.

We all know that the game of Gaelic football is amateur in name only. Except for the players, that is.

Honestly, though, who are we kidding? How long are we going to tread that same nostalgic road with the unicorns and the fairies.

Inter-county football is total commitment. It is recovery after matches. It is warm-downs, long after the fans have streamed their way out of the stadium – the same warm-downs you see live on Sky on Super Sunday in the background as the pundits are talking post-match.

No nights out, stag parties, birthday parties. It's a tea or a coffee if you venture out. If you don't have a girlfriend, it's probably Tinder on a Saturday night, swiping right or left. That's the reality of the modern inter-county player.

As usual in sport, you take the chance that you will play in the first 15, you may not even be in the 26 for matchday and there are absolutely no guarantees of winning or silverware.

In fact, it is harder now to win an All-Ireland title than at any other time in the history of the competition.

Forget the provincial system and the back door. The chances of getting through a Super 8 group, then beating a Dublin in a semi-final or final are, at best, remote.

Of course, Dublin's run won't last forever, but they will remain formidable into the future in whatever form. But everyone's getting rich on the back of the inter-county players.

Why are so many county players releasing books? In the words of Eamon Dunphy, ‘It's payday, baby'.

The sacred space, which was always the changing room, is now flogged to the ghost writer for the purposes of selling a few tales, funny or not.

If someone wants to write a book, fair play. For me, personally, I think 20 years down the line is time enough for that.

At that point, any lingering from one's career or cries of opportunism are well and truly gone. But the fact remains that, in the absence of any inter-county player receiving a proper payment, players will continue to find new ways of finally getting ‘paid'.

Colm Cooper received a fair bit of publicity around his ‘testimonial'. And after all the fuss died down, he obviously received a sound cheque, albeit charities also benefited from the event.

However, the Coopers of this world are few and far between. In the week his team-mate Donnchadh Walsh called time on his 15 years of service with Kerry, I wonder if he will receive a similarly planned event or even a golden handshake?

Was the time he invested worth any more or less than Colm Cooper's?

In all sport, the best players always get the best contracts, get paid more and receive the most lucrative commercial opprtunities. However, even the third string quarter-back receives something.

As a player, I always thought that consistent payment of some kind would come in my lifetime of playing. It had no bearing on whether it did or didn't from my perspective.

I was lucky that my parents were both teachers and they could (financially) support my pursuit of inter-county football and the commitments it entailed.

For other less fortunate individuals, they were unable to enjoy the same support. Commitment was conditioned by part-time and full-time work.

The current Dublin team, for example, all operate most likely within the confines of the capital city, do not have to travel long distances in order to study or work and, in fact, train with the inter-county team.

Tell us that travelling to and from inter-county training three to four days a week doesn't make a difference to a Galway, Mayo, Derry or Donegal player's physical and mental health.

Tell us that ‘mileage' is sufficient.

John Horan stated last week that the GAA does not take the commitment of the inter-county player for granted and, in his words, “we have undertaken a review of our games programme with a view to improving the club to inter-county balance, and also the games to training ratio, and believe this will also be of benefit to players”.

The fixtures schedule, as this year has demonstrated, has had absolutely no bearing on the average inter-county player.

April being set aside for the club players in reality was a lovely thought, but the fact that county team managers took it as an opportunity for a ‘free month' to drive and improve fitness within the group became the real collateral damage.

As an ex-player, I would feel absolutely no ambiguity regarding any inter-county player receiving money for their services in the future. With the level of commercialism now from within GAA headquarters itself, can it really keep living off the goodwill of its volunteers for much longer?

How long can ex-players stand back and shake our heads, doubting that modern county players would want for pay for play?

Against the ethos of the GAA? Absolutely, but when the GAA start selling the rights to Sky TV and similar commercial bodies, you can rightly feel a bit ‘mugged off' as a player.

Think about it this way: The physio is paid. The trainer of the team, the strength and conditioning coach and the team psychologist are all paid.

The caterer is paid. The team manager is paid. The player? Voluntary.

The results of the ERSI may well be self-explanatory and obvious to many, but somewhere in that report I feel that the unspoken truth is that inter-county players are sick of everyone else getting paid but them. You won't see it in any report, but the GAA are currently living off goodwill.

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