Sport

Enda McGinley: There is more to achieve than going Stateside for the summer

Slaughtneil camogs celebrate winning their third successive All-Ireland title. No amount of trips to America could match that sense of achievement

INFALLIBILITY is a rare gift granted only, as far as I’m aware, to the Pope, referees and of course our good wives.

For the rest of us, being wrong is always an uncomfortable possibility.

The strange situations are those that despite knowing you might be wrong on something you can’t bring yourself to change your mind as some of our personal opinions are simply based outside of logic.

One such issue of mine usually appears at this time of the year: that of the player going travelling for the summer.

I know and accept the rationale of the arguments which suggest this shouldn’t be an issue at all. Gaelic Games are an amateur sport, or hobbies which we take strangely seriously and thus place no hold or contract over any player in forcing them to play.

Like everyone, players are only young once, and, without the ties of mortgages, permanent jobs or young families they have a freedom and should maximise this to the full.

By any legal or factual standard they owe nobody anything and should make the most out of the opportunities which present themselves. If they want to go see the world, isn’t it right that they do so?

Yes, heard them all before, but even as I typed that, I was re-jigging the words to fit with some concepts which begin to question the above: ‘I’m free, to do what I want’ narrative of that Soup Dragons song.

My issues centre around two main points. That of owing nobody anything and of living life to the full.

These are two areas which are hugely personal and so can only be determined by each individual person for themselves. Both are common mantras for young people as they experience the full freedom of adulthood.

For those of us who have entered into the other stage of adulthood, that of families, mortgages and permanent jobs, that freedom is looked jealously upon and it is often this group that encourage the younger people to make the most of it because, as we all come to realise, life passes by too quickly.

Yet, I feel such sentiments miss another side of this coin. With that independence and freedom comes a responsibility. For those of us brought up in the GAA and due to the simple physical realities of sport, responsibilities on the 20-30-year-olds include forming the senior team of the club.

Is this a responsibility or a privileged opportunity?

The strength of each of our communities is something we can all be rightly proud of in this country.

It is something that, as I have said before, marks ours as probably one of the best places to live in the world.

Not from a point of view of bustling city life or exciting opportunities but from the longer lasting and more core values such as sense of home, community spirit and identity.

Now the GAA community for me, is central in this.

The club units are usually run by a band of hugely loyal and committed Gaels and followed and supported to varying degrees by everyone else.

The vast majority of these people are well past playing age.

Yet what happens on the pitch, especially with a club senior team, has huge carry-over into all the activities that are required to run a club and to all the people behind it.

When framed like this, the people that find themselves at senior playing age and with sufficient talent to make a difference, for me, definitely do carry a responsibility to their club.

Again, for any of us past players, the reality of how quickly our playing years pass hits us all in the end.

In the midst of them, however, players have the opportunity to do more for their community than perhaps at any other time in their lives.

The best chairman or youth coach in the world will not have the lasting impact on a community that senior victories can have.

A successful senior team, at whatever level a club competes at, will lead to surges in youth activity and enthusiasm in all layers of club life that is almost impossible to generate in other ways.

It can be enough to ignite the passion in another generation and bring a level of joy in the older generations that little else can. Opportunity, privilege or responsibility.

Frame it how you like but, for me, saying such players owe nobody nothing doesn’t ring completely true.

This carries over to the concept of living life to the full.

Which leaves you more satisfied a petits fours desert or your favourite desert in full-sized glory.

If you are wanting to travel then go travel properly, go travel round the world or go for a number of years to a place but to go for a summer to America to play football? Please.

I don’t buy that this is worth letting down team-mates if it comes to it. Bottom line to dedicate yourself to a cause is also a very real, and for me more admirable, form, of living life to the full.

Now, to clarify, this will be different depending on circumstances.

In the past with club championships occasionally early in summer, players could go out knowing their club was already out of the championship or currently players can go out as ‘sanctioned players’ meaning they play for the summer months out there and still return home to play championship.

These may not be ideal but here the balance between a good summer and minimal downsides certainly alters the conversation.

I suppose when all is said, the opportunity to go travel is also a privilege of modern life and if a player has always had a desire to go it would be a pity that they go through their twenties without ever actually getting away because of their sense of duty to their team.

When it’s put this way even the most ardent of GAA folk would feel uneasy about placing such an expectation on young shoulders.

Yet the other side of the coin is the thing that irks me.

It is the implication and consequent perception that those that do stay at home, that do remain dedicated to their team over many years are somehow missing out on life because of it.

For me nothing could be further from the truth.

Their dedication to their sport and their team, their dream of victories for their club and community is a hugely positive reflection on them as young men or women.

Behavioural scientists often talk of the human trait of people yearning to be part of or contribute to something bigger than themselves; ‘to make a difference’.

The nature of our clubs entwinement to our individual and collective everyday lives means that our sport can often be so much more than a simple past time.

Players who eschew the stateside summers will of course miss out on things but sampling a wee bit of everything means you usually cannot experience the ultimate satisfaction of knowing that you did everything you possibly could in the pursuit of something very special.

There are those that still never make it, for those that do, no trip nor ‘experience’ would ever come close.

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