No one should have to pick between soccer and GAA... experiencing all sports stands to players

No one should have to pick between soccer and GAA... experiencing all sports stands to players
Cork footballer Michael Shields playing for Wilton against Cobh in the Munster Senior League. Picture: Gavin Browne

DID you get up at quarter past five on Sunday morning to watch Ireland play Australia in the international rules in Melbourne?

We’re guessing you didn’t – if you’re in the minority who did, then fair play, but we’re certainly among those who opted to stay in bed.

Apparently, the game was fairly exciting but Ireland never really looked like winning, with a late flurry bringing them back into contention ahead of the second test in Perth next weekend.

Douglas club man Sean Powter is in Australia with the Irish team. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Douglas club man Sean Powter is in Australia with the Irish team. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

It’s only at a more palatable time next Saturday morning and the fact that the series is still up for grabs means that there might be more of a TV audience but still, will you remember who wins if you’re asked in a few months’ time? Would you know off-hand who won the last series and what year it took place?

Now, to be fair, there was an attendance of around 25,000 in the stadium and the players enjoy representing Ireland, but beyond that, what purpose does the hybrid game serve, apart from allowing the Australians the benefit of auditioning potential players to sign?

There is a constant desire among those involved in the GAA to market the games internationally, but even if that is the aim, doing so in a code of football which is mixed with another isn’t going to get foreigners watching Gaelic? Likewise, staging 11-a-side hurling in Fenway Park isn’t all of a sudden going to yield an American viewership, no matter how many staged fights there are.

Tipperary hurler Michael Cahill, left, and Clare hurler David Fitzgerald in Croke Park to launch the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tipperary hurler Michael Cahill, left, and Clare hurler David Fitzgerald in Croke Park to launch the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The deal to allow Sky to broadcast GAA games was also held up as being key to developing the international angle. While there was a craze for clickbait websites posting articles about “what Gary in Solihull thought about the amazing mix of hockey and fighting”, it seems to have waned, thankfully.

Other things on the current Sky Sports schedule: netball, showjumping, puppy derby and WWE – their participation levels haven’t magically grown here just because they are on the telly.

If there was a real desire to grow the games abroad, then providing funding for the existing clubs and foreign ‘county boards’ would be the way to go – building from the ground up rather than the top-down approach of simply hoping that people will be interested enough from seeing it on their screens.

One would think that, if there was a drive to get as many foreign people interested in the GAA as possible, there would also be a keenness to keep young people here involved. On Saturday, we noticed a tweet from fellow Echo scribe Ger McCarthy, who said that the West Cork Schoolboys League U16 team were without five key players for a Munster inter-league clash with South Tipperary after they were given an ultimatum by a GAA coach – miss training or they were dropped.

Now, we’re not for a minute suggesting that this is only a one-way problem and that it’s only GAA mentors who lay down such choices, but anyone effectively forcing teenagers to choose between sports is wrong.

When somebody is good enough to combine two or more sports and can reasonably meet the scheduling demands, they should be accommodated as much as is practical, rather than having to make a decision.

If it was a player who played hurling and football for two different clubs, they wouldn’t be placed in such a position, just because it’s the same governing body – although, you know that if the choice was football/hurling or handball or rounders, there would be an expectation that the ‘lesser’ GAA codes would be eschewed. There is still seemingly an attitude where some GAA people feel they have to be against other sports, antagonistic rather than co-operative, even though such divisiveness can’t lead to anything good in the long run.

Kieran Donaghy is as good for Garvey's Tralee Warriors as he is for Kerry. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Kieran Donaghy is as good for Garvey's Tralee Warriors as he is for Kerry. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

How often have we seen analysts compliment the ball-handling skills of Kieran Donaghy or Aidan O’Shea with reference to their basketball backgrounds? Whenever a rugby player makes a high catch, there’s a good chance someone will say it’s due to playing Gaelic. More exposure to different sports allows for a greater and more varied skill-set.

Missing one training session isn’t going to be the decisive factor in a player’s development, but imposing a choice is an easy test of commitment, and provides the coach with the control he craves.

 

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