Many elements of the GAA could be improved but it made me who I am today

Many elements of the GAA could be improved but it made me who I am today
Avondhu's Michael Sheehan is tackled by UCC's Oran Clifford during the Cork SFC. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THIS week’s piece marks the final chapter in my short-lived career as a regular Friday columnist with the Evening Echo. 

I’ve been lured away by the bright lights, the glitz and the glamour of the world of finance, calculators and spreadsheets.

Over the last number of months I’ve been musing on all things GAA so today, to round off, I’ve decided to combine the business world and the sporting world and look at a simple SWOT analysis of the current state of the GAA.

SWOT analysis is a technique used by many organisations the world over to identify their internal Strengths and Weaknesses as well as Opportunities and Threats from an external perspective. 

I’m going to focus on one under each heading.

Strength - Memories:

The GAA had such a positive impact on my life from so many perspectives.

It allowed me to dream big, it gave me some of my closest friends, it allowed me to develop as a player and a person and it gave me skills and character traits that form who I am today... an accountant! 

But it is the memories that it provided that will last with me my entire life and which I refer to with regularity.

GAA provides kids of all ages with the opportunity and a platform to dream big and create memories that will last a lifetime. 

A perfect example of this would be the brilliantly organised Feile competition. 

This competition allows kids to dream about being the best in the world and to achieve it with their family and friends. 

At such a young age what more, as a parent, could you ask for your kid but for them to dream and dream big. I look back on my juvenile career and there are some real stand out moments and memories. 

There was that time we played an U12 B North Cork final where the wind was so strong that it blew the goalpost over on our goalkeeper’s head while every kick-out risked going out for a 45. Mad stuff but I remember it like it was only yesterday.

I didn’t have a Féile moment but in 2001, while on a tour of Southern Ireland, the Melbourne based Aussie rules club Geelong played us in an U14 compromise rules match in Glanworth. 

This was an incredible experience. Many of those Geelong players that played that day went on to have successful professional careers in Australia. 

We still talk about it today.

Weakness – Club fixtures:

You should always look at your weaknesses and examine how you can turn it into a strength. It will require hard work and effort but once you identify it then you are already on the road. 

The GAA needs to understand that their biggest weakness is also contributing to their biggest threat (we’ll get to that later). We all like to criticise more than we like to compliment. 

I think it’s in the Irish psyche but there is merit in some of the criticisms the GAA has faced in recent years particularly in relation to the club fixtures calendar. 

This weakness in the current system is one that could quite possibly lead to players switching allegiances and looking at alternative games available in Ireland, such as soccer and rugby, to meet their needs. 

We all know something needs to be done but it’s this reluctance to do anything meaningful in the short to medium term which could have a lasting effect on the game here in Ireland.

I think it’s time for revolution on this issue, not evolution which is coming too slow.

Opportunity – One GAA for all:

With the right amount of planning, with the right people involved and with the necessary due care and consideration I believe that all GAA played in the country and beyond should operate under the one umbrella. 

This, if run correctly, can only help grow the game nationally for both the ladies and men’s codes and I think particular focus is needed to help further growth in the ladies games. 

I wouldn’t take away the autonomy of the ladies game but I would start with the GAA providing more assistance. This initially could be in the form of marketing support, promotion of the game, more double-headers and funding for the growth of the game in local ladies clubs and primary schools. 

Over time this should advance and the relationships should strengthen allowing the games to operate under the one GAA heading responsible for the growth and development of all our games.

Threat – Losing players to other sports:

There are many threats to the game as a whole. There always has been and there always will be. 

Some of these current issues include young footballers and hurlers who are tempted to leave for the professional ranks of Aussie Rules or even soccer cross-channel. This brings up the threat of the diminution of the amateur ethos of the organisation and whether our inter-county stars should be paid for their exploits. 

Then ask yourself how we deal with the black market that has developed and trickled down to even the smallest rural clubs for the payment for services of coaches. 

But the most pertinent and in my opinion the biggest threat to the organisation is the number of young players who opt for other team sports which are now more readily available in Ireland. 

Why play GAA when all you do is train all year and have no certainty around fixtures when in other sports the calendar is set out in stone at the start of the campaign. 

Social and personal lives can be planned in advance and you still get the benefits of good mental and physical health, friendship and the ability to dream. This should be a concern for GAA chiefs and is a major threat to our game.

It’s clear that the fixture issue is the single largest weakness and threat to our game and is both an internal and external issue. 

Talking about it will not fix it. I, like many others, am deeply concerned about it.

I can’t emphasise enough though about the importance of GAA and team sports in my life and in most of the people in the GAA world who I come across. 

I have taken far more positives out of the game than negatives. 

I really do hope that these experiences and memories that I was lucky enough to garnish over the years will still be available to future generations.

CONTACT: Twitter: @giosheehan Email: giosheeha@gmail.com

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