GAA’s gravy train has al­ready left the sta­tion

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - COLM O’ROURKE

THE spot­light has been shin­ing brightly on Colm Cooper’s tes­ti­mo­nial din­ner, and the gen­eral re­ac­tion has been quite neg­a­tive. The dis­sent­ing voices in­cluded my col­league Joe Brolly, who ar­tic­u­lated his mis­giv­ings in print and on ra­dio.

There are some in Kerry and fur­ther afield who think Joe was never too kind to the Gooch any­way and was less than gra­cious on the oc­ca­sion of his re­tire­ment. At the time, Joe high­lighted some of the games when Gooch did not play well more than the ones when he did.

It was not an ap­proach I agreed with at the time and I told Joe so, as there is no great player who would sur­vive a sur­gi­cal anal­y­sis of ev­ery big match they played in. All would have had games they were not happy with — while I was never in the class of Gooch, or laden down with the same hon­ours, there were sev­eral Le­in­ster fi­nals and many club cham­pi­onship fi­nals when I was very dis­ap­pointed with my per­for­mance. Some­thing that I did not need any­one else to re­mind me of.

In the case of the tes­ti­mo­nial din­ner, Joe can­not be ac­cused of throw­ing bricks from afar. On the night of the All-Ire­land final, Joe told Gooch in my pres­ence that he was not happy with his tes­ti­mo­nial event. Many more of us had se­ri­ous reser­va­tions but were too cow­ardly to ex­press them pub­licly at the time. Joe cer­tainly was not.

To me, this whole thing has be­come like a run­away train. In the be­gin­ning, it must have seemed a very nice thing to Colm Cooper and his fam­ily that there was going to be some type of public event that would mark his re­tire­ment from the county scene. He was ap­proached by oth­ers about this and it was not at his in­sti­ga­tion. Very quickly, it be­came a mon­ster and now there is se­ri­ous dough in­volved.

The GAA at cen­tral level have no con­trol over Colm Cooper, pri­vate ci­ti­zen, any­way. The pop­u­lar­ity of the Gooch is such that few will ques­tion the event, and there is also the re­al­i­sa­tion that this is not a man to whom you would at­tach the term the term ‘mer­ce­nary’. There are plenty of oth­ers who could take cus­tody of that ti­tle.

The full im­port of this din­ner should be becoming ap­par­ent to ev­ery­one in the GAA — and to Gooch him­self. How many other great Kerry play­ers are en­ti­tled to a tes­ti­mo­nial din­ner now that Colm is dip­ping his toe in the cor­po­rate pond? In the re­cent past, the three Ó Sé broth­ers, Sea­mus Moyni­han and Mau­rice Fitzger­ald spring to mind. What about the Bro­gans in Dublin, or Stephen Clux­ton, or a star player in a weaker county? Should the money go into the in­di­vid­ual’s pocket, or is his club or county en­ti­tled to any­thing? A lot of skele­tons are tum­bling out of the cup­board on this one.

The organisers of this event could do them­selves and Cooper a big favour by chang­ing tack be­fore it is too late and it causes dam­age to the rep­u­ta­tion of a highly re­spected player. There should be a re-eval­u­a­tion of the whole event and where the pro­ceeds go. It is cer­tainly not too late for that, and the spon­sors of this night should en­sure that short-term gain is not at the ex­pense of rep­u­ta­tional dam­age.

There is a much bet­ter way of re­ward­ing play­ers who have made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to their clubs and coun­ties.

Some time ago, Char­lie McCreevy, as Min­is­ter for Fi­nance, in­tro­duced a scheme where pro­fes­sional sports peo­ple could re­claim tax after they had fin­ished their ca­reers. It is ob­vi­ously not some­thing that GAA play­ers could avail of, but there should be some type of scheme where play­ers who play a min­i­mum number of games for their coun­ties are en­ti­tled to a tax re­bate after they hang up their boots. It should be based on league matches so play­ers from all coun­ties could then be in­cluded.

If, for ex­am­ple, a county player who played 50 or 60 league games was en­ti­tled to a tax re­bate, it would re­ward ev­ery­one equally from all coun­ties. The leg­is­la­tion would not ap­ply to play­ers in the Six Coun­ties, of course, but I’m sure that could be over­come. The amounts in­volved for the Rev­enue would be a pit­tance each year. Are pro­fes­sional sports peo­ple more en­ti­tled to tax back than those who give great en­joy­ment in pro­mot­ing our na­tional games?

It is not surprising that the idea of a tes­ti­mo­nial din­ner or some other re­ward for individuals is tak­ing root as this is the de­lib­er­ate path that the GAA has em­barked on re­cently. It is all about elitism — the GPA, the Sky deal and the Su­per 8. It is the path of self-de­struc­tion.

Ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion needs a phi­los­o­phy and ethos which ev­ery­one clearly un­der­stands and can buy into. What or­di­nary mem­ber un­der­stands the phi­los­o­phy behind sell­ing our am­a­teur games, which be­long to ev­ery­one, to a multi-bil­lion-euro con­glom­er­ate who could not care less what the GAA stands for? And for the 40 pieces of sil­ver, the young, the old and the poor can­not see games like the All-Ire­land quar­ter-fi­nals, which are ex­clu­sively on Sky.

How many or­di­nary club mem­bers can un­der­stand how such huge quan­ti­ties of money are handed to the GPA ev­ery year? This is nothing to do with how val­ued or otherwise county play­ers are. It is more to do with de­ci­sions on how limited re­sources are used. Is elitism the only game in town now? Can county play­ers not be looked after very well with­out a vast bu­reau­cracy hav­ing to spring up around them? A pro­fes­sional play­ers’ union for the elite am­a­teur play­ers is a total con­tra­dic­tion and makes all of the club play­ers look like un­nec­es­sary pad­ding.

Then the Su­per 8 is com­ing. To a town near you too. More games for Dublin and Kerry . . . round up the other usual sus­pects. The strong pan­els will dom­i­nate. If one did not know bet­ter, it could be as­sumed that this is a Dublin Tro­jan horse which has been parked for their long-term dom­i­na­tion.

It will be hard to feel sorry for the weaker coun­ties, though, when they start squeal­ing about this in a cou­ple of years. They voted for it. Any­way, they will prob­a­bly be thrown a bone in the shape of some added rev­enue. It will keep the na­tives from becoming too rest­less.

When it comes to the GAA, I am a so­cial­ist. It is a source of en­ter­tain­ment for my friends. Yet that is exactly what the GAA should be about, and the most ar­dent cap­i­tal­ists should be able to recog­nise and agree with that. Peo­ple can make for­tunes from business, but the GAA is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent concept. It was not set up for elitism or in­di­vid­ual gain. It is about things like giv­ing, shar­ing, help­ing, build­ing. All based on un­selfish­ness.

Of course there needs to be money to drive this, but it is not about prof­its or div­i­dends or in­di­vid­ual gain. The di­rec­tion the GAA is going at the top now means that many play­ers feel they are en­ti­tled to jump on the gravy train.

This is the GAA of the fu­ture. Count me out as an ad­mirer.

How many other Kerry play­ers are en­ti­tled to a tes­ti­mo­nial din­ner?

‘The GAA was not set up for elitism or in­di­vid­ual gain. It is about things like giv­ing, shar­ing, help­ing, build­ing. All based on un­selfish­ness’

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