Columnists

Is there any sense in being an amateur in a soulless, money-driven GAA?

Philip McMahon has become a beacon of hope for youngsters in north Dublin, but there'll be very few kids in such deprived areas that will be able to afford to attend the All-Ireland Football final. Picture by Seamus Loughran

THERE are large parts of north Dublin, and chunks west of the city centre, that are classed as deprived.

While the south side of the capital is home to management types and business leaders, a significant portion of the population on the north side are unemployed or work in manual construction.

A report released by Dublin City Council in 2015 showed that the gap was growing. More people in the north side were being classed as ‘disadvantaged’ as the affluence of others grew beneath them.

And what else is the north side of Dublin home to? The GAA.

Of the team that will take on Mayo, look how many originate from the north. Stephen Cluxton. Johnny Cooper. Philly McMahon. James McCarthy. John Small. Jack McCaffrey. Brian Fenton. Paul Flynn. Ciaran Kilkenny. Diarmuid Connolly. Paddy Andrews. Bernard Brogan. Dean Rock.

They are shining examples to the youth in areas like Ballymun and Finglas and Ballyfermot. Areas where it’s easy to get sucked into a life of crime, drugs and violence.

Philip McMahon became a beacon for hope. He lost his brother John to a drug addiction but football took him out of that circle. Instead, as youngsters Davy Byrne would come and shout up to him and they’d take their ball and walk up past all the gangs to Poppintree Park where they trained.

But of all the kids in north Dublin, how many of them will be afforded the chance to walk down to Jones’ Road and watch the men that might convince them that there’s a life beyond crime?

Very few. Because the GAA doesn’t make any allowances on the price of matchday tickets for the All-Ireland final.

No matter if you’re 6-months-old, 6-years-old or 76-years-old, it’s €80 thank you very much.

How many parents living on council estates in deprived areas with high unemployment rates have that kind of money to hand out for a football match?

In one sense it doesn’t matter so much that Dublin county board is absolutely complicit in what’s happening.

They’ve found their own way to grotesquely profit. For just €2,500, you can get 10 tickets for an All-Ireland final preview breakfast that includes a Q&A with former Dublin players, a ‘Dublin GAA’ gift and a signed senior team jersey.

And just in case you weren’t sure about handing over such a wad of cash, there’s the guaranteed option of buying 10 tickets for the final itself, along with 10 tickets for the ladies’ final involving the same two counties, for another €1,000.

Tickets will be scarce enough on the ground for hard-working club members in Dublin, with demand never satisfied, yet the county board are taking tickets and selling them to the highest bidder.

Money makes the world go round, but our world was supposed to be immune.

It’s all just wrong.

The All-Ireland final is a very easy game to monetise. Croke Park would sell out twice over at €80 a pop without a problem. They don’t need to offer concessions to sell the tickets.

But all that their failure to do so does is provide further evidence of what the GAA is now. A soulless business. Nothing else.

A story appeared in Friday’s edition of The Irish News that really made my blood boil. A Tyrone supporter was told she needed a ticket to bring her nine-week-old baby into the All-Ireland semi-final.

That was after a parent reported to RTÉ last week being asked to pay €35 for their six-month old that was strapped to their chest.

“Long-standing stadium regulation” or some bull of that degree was the GAA’s response. Fine. Have a policy. But what sort of a policy is that?

The Aviva Stadium, home to multi-million pound professional sports, allows parents to bring children under two in without a ticket because they will sit on their parent’s lap. They don’t need a seat.

It’s pure money. God forbid a child would get in free. Health and safety? What do they plan to do in the event of an emergency, get 82,000 people to stand for a head count?

It’s a pathetic policy. A family based organisation? The clubs and people are the bedrock?

I don’t think I’ve ever been so disillusioned with the path that the GAA is on.

We had an outside man come in and take our senior footballers for four years. One of the best GAA people you’ll ever meet. I wouldn’t like to think how much money those four years cost him. He never took one single penny from our club. Not one.

That’s the GAA I grew up to believe in. It’s probably incredibly naïve to do so in today’s world. But why is the GAA prioritising money over its people?

It’s the biggest open secret in Irish sport that volunteers in a senior inter-county setup are as common as a Leinster football medal in Carlow.

They barely even exist at club level. Christy Cooney described the brown envelope culture as “a cancer in the GAA” but it’s worse now than it was then.

County players' expenses equate to semi-professionalism. The only amateurs actually left are the club players, underage coaches and committee members.

That's not really an amateur association then, is it?

Why are Croke Park turning a complete blind eye to this? Can’t prove it? They run the association. They have the power to do as they please.

An iron fist is needed here but they’ve been taking the feather duster to it. Not just complicit but actually driving the bus.

When I interviewed Páraic Duffy before Congress earlier this year, I put to him the idea of a cap on inter-county team spending and stringent annual reviews of the accounts of every county.

He actually put the first part forward as an idea from the pulpit on the opening night of Congress, but realistically will it ever happen? I doubt it very much.

Meanwhile the club scene is a shambles. Players playing four or five games for their clubs in a year. Participation rates at underage continue to rise but so too do adult dropout rates.

The GAA’s 2013 ERSI report ‘Keeping Them In The Game’ revealed that 75 per cent of players were disappearing between the ages of 21 and 26.

75 per cent.

So what’s all this money for? To pay for coaches to go into clubs and produce players that they never see if they’re county standard, or that disappear at the age of 21? Where’s the sense in that?

Is there any sense left in any of this?

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