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Colm Cavanagh: Amateur status keeps even the GAA's biggest stars grounded

David Clifford doesn’t have any social media accounts. As one of the best footballers of the current generation – and indeed many generations - this is refreshing to hear. Picture: Philip Walsh.
COLM CAVANAGH

I THINK if you asked any top level GAA player if they considered themselves ‘famous’ they would honestly laugh in your face at the idea of it.

Recognised, perhaps, but that’s usually only within your own county and even at that it is only amongst those who follow GAA. Even the historical greats and those who won six All-Irelands in-a-row would find it very difficult to even admit that they would get recognised in the street.

GAA players don’t get into sport with the intentions of being recognised never mind being considered ‘famous’, in fact the very idea of it makes 99 per cent of us very uncomfortable.

Being an amateur sport it means that we all require our own careers and aspirations outside of sport. No matter how time-consuming and energy-sapping it is, it doesn’t pay our bills so there will always be something more behind every GAA player. When we go home in the evenings we are someone’s son, daughter, partner, we are a teacher, a tradesman, a student, we are not 'a footballer'.

In modern society there are plenty of opportunities for GAA players to raise their profile with endorsements and advertising anything from insurance to vitamin supplements. With social media followings of thousands, or sometimes tens of thousands of people, why wouldn’t they take the opportunity to raise some additional income or even better, use their profile to the benefit of charitable organisations or by raising awareness of certain issues.

Lads are also being given ‘perks’ such as the use of a specific car from a dealership so that they can advertise for them, sponsored gloves, sponsored boots, discounted meal plans etc.

None of these opportunities are taken with the intentions of becoming famous as a result but rather it is usually seen as an opportunity to see some financial benefit for all the hours of training and sacrifices they have made to represent their county.

In professional sport, fame usually goes hand in hand with success. Names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Dan Carter and Rodger Federer are all synonymous with their sports but I would guarantee that none of those people got into sport with the intentions of being considered famous, they just wanted to be the best that they could.

After all his troubles of a few years ago, I saw a quote from Tiger Woods saying “Money and fame made me believe I was entitled. I was wrong and foolish”.

When we see the impact of fame and excess on many sports people, we can be glad that the GAA (and the Irish mentality in general) keeps even our very best players grounded. Recently David Clifford remarked that he doesn’t have any social media accounts. As one of the best footballers of the current generation – and indeed many generations - this is refreshing to hear.

He doesn’t seem to get swept up in any of the hype or hysteria surrounding his playing profile but instead remains himself. I’ve no doubt there are companies knocking on his door every day wanting to associate him with their products or brands and, let’s be honest, he would be foolish not to take any opportunities he is presented with, but at the same time he doesn’t boast or brag, just lets his skill and ability on the pitch do the talking for him.

If we compare the attitudes of David Clifford and Conor McManus to those of many Premier League footballers they couldn’t be more opposite. This is largely down to money and excess. As a professional sports person, agents and PR people are constantly telling you how talented and brilliant you are and you have more money than you ever knew what to do with.

As Tiger Woods said, it creates an attitude of entitlement which is very hard to admire or aspire to. I would think if McManus or Kieran McGeary walked into a shop or restaurant expecting their tab to be covered because of who they are, then they would be left standing embarrassed – it is just a completely different mindset in amateur sport and in Ireland in general. I can’t imagine even Katie Taylor or Shane Lowry expecting anything, or ever coming out with “Don’t you know who I am?”

GAA players have to appreciate that although they are not ‘famous’ they do often get recognised and there is a responsibility that comes with that too. People of all ages from the youngest of children to the eldest of ladies and gentlemen could stop any GAA player in the street and know that they could ask for a photo or autograph or just a hello and a chat and they will gladly do so.

It doesn’t matter if you have six All-Ireland medals or none, if you have been recognised by someone it is usually because they appreciate what you do, they have admired your skills and they want to let you know that they appreciate your efforts.

It is often said 'never meet your heroes' and I think this is largely down to the aforementioned attitude of entitlement. I think there are a lot of famous people who,if I saw in the street, I wouldn’t approach, more out of respect for their privacy than anything else but I will say that if Ronaldo was spotted walking the streets of Tyrone, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of meeting him. The chance would have to be taken, I might even risk asking him for a selfie.

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