Danny Hughes: Lure of the dollar a threat to club game and it needs sorted
IT is a difficult time of the year for our inter-county players.Club league games will be in full swing and, in some counties, there may even be a round of the championship in the offing before being placed back into the freezer until the county team is knocked out of the Championship.
You will have the usual suspects negotiating behind closed doors with officials and team managers from the USA, having their passports renewed, documents in order and ready to hit the bright lights of New York, Chicago or San Francisco.
Over the years, I received a number of invitations to go and play football in the States, paid jobs and a few quid of spending money. Do I regret not taking up the invitations? Yes.
At the time, you still felt a guilt when leaving your club, especially if you were hovering around the second and first divisions of the league.
If you leave the country, promotion may not be secured into the top flight.
Again, if you leave, perhaps a club’s fate with relegation from the top flight is much more likely.
There was also the fact that the county manager at the time may well have marked your card as a ‘deserter’ for your club or county and this unspoken element was enough to put you off transferring abroad for the summer.
There was definitely a loyalty aspect to it all. And for this sole reason, the chance to travel and play football in the US lost the internal debate from a personal viewpoint.
I was recently talking to a friend from south Armagh who informed me that you could field a team of Crossmaglen players from those who had decided to play football in the USA.
This must significantly inhibit the club’s progress in both the senior league and championship.
Remember that this is one of the most successful and decorated club teams in GAA history.
When you consider the county v club debate and the emphasis today on a proper working fixtures calendar, you think that this is being tailored toward alleviating the pressure on county players and prioritising participation levels for the majority, not the minority.
Which it is.
However, on a scale, I would suggest that players heading out to the USA to play football has an even greater detrimental short-term effect on clubs throughout Ireland.
Yes, the GAA have included certain criteria in the rules in terms of eligibility, but, largely, you can work around these rules if need be.
While it might not be very popular Stateside – and I realise that there is a significant amount of work going into ex-pats abroad and isues of funding – the rules governing transfers from Ireland to the USA for the summer appear much too flexible.
To an extent, players are getting the best of both worlds. Meanwhile, club teams are struggling to field during the summer months in rural areas.
With an increasing number of students playing Gaelic football, such is the change in the working demographics of the GAA, a summer working and earning decent money in a warmer climate is a proposition not to be sniffed at for any young person.
Likewise, for a young qualified tradesman, the promise of a significant increase in pay is an attractive incentive.
You cannot stop any student or young person from experiencing life and I would always support embracing a worldly outlook.
However, we must look after our own interests from a GAA club playing perspective.
Additionally, this is becoming as important at inter-county level, especially in recent times with inter-county players deciding to opt out of county football to take up opportunities in the USA and abroad for a few short months only. This was relatively unheard of when I was playing.
Whether the rules have changed, I cannot say, but the appetite for inter-county football and hurling certainly has.
Perhaps this degree of apathy stems from Dublin’s superiority, being almost unbeatable, and this domination has resulted in a level of rejection or certainly dejection as regards the Championship structure for many teams.
Additionally, it might be in the best interests of an inter-county manager or indeed club manager who is being paid to have the best players available to the team Meantime, the player receives nothing in terms of compensation, barely surviving on the minimum living wage.
An ‘every man for himself’ attitude quickly becomes the more prevalent mindset within both county and club football.
There is a younger generation playing now, one that is much more selfish. The ideal scenario is that players all put the shoulder to the wheel, but this is just not realistic thinking. This ‘new’ realism will have to be incorporated within GAA thinking now.
It would be interesting to see more Draconian rules adopted by the GAA when considering players transferring to the USA.
How would this look?
It would need to protect the clubs and indeed the county. From an inter-county perspective, you could follow a model adopted by rugby in some countries; players playing outside the country cannot be considered for international squads.
If a player were to transfer Stateside for a summer, should they be eligible to play inter-county football in the next season for National League or Championship?
It is certainly a debate worth having.
Similarly, at club level, the GAA’s attitude toward internal club transfers for players has always been a confusing one.
If a transfer is objected to, in certain cases, the said player will have to sit out playing activities for at least 12 months.
Again, this is something that needs considered.
I think that with debate around calendars and Championship structures, some of the more important and practical issues are being missed. If we are serious about protecting the club game, at a time of the year when students are finishing exams and preparing themselves for a few months of downtime, we need to also consider how we protect our club game from ourselves at times.