By Frank Brady
During the week the New York GAA was unwittingly plunged into a controversy with the administration at Croke Park that could have serious ramifications for many players and ultimately the relations between the two bodies.
The GAA president, Sean McCague, dropped a bombshell Thursday when he announced a complete embargo on all Irish players wishing to travel to the United States, whether it was a weekend authorization, a 60-day sanction or a transfer. He claimed that the action was initiated “following an unprecedented level of concern expressed by club and county units regarding the numbers of players invited by the North American and New York County Boards to play under their jurisdiction.”
According to the rules that were jointly agreed to by Croke Park and New York, football clubs here may use two weekend players with authorizations, while hurling clubs may have three. In addition, both hurling and football clubs may include as many as six players with 60-day sanctions in their lineouts. This rule was specifically designed to accommodate the
influx of students and those players wishing to stay longer than a weekend.
Recently the transfer rule was amended to bring it into conformity with other units, which allows a player to transfer after a three-month residency. On the surface it would seem that these arrangements were working reasonably well as player traffic was well documented and regulated. Prior to this many Irish players in collusion with the New York personnel were known to strut their stuff under various identities or their preferred “nom de peil.”
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Reporters were often between a rock and a hard place as they sought to match an identity with efforts on the field. One reporter who was extremely impressed with the performance of a corner forward who was previously unheralded and unheard of,
sought to verify the players name as he left the field only to be told “you better ask the manager.” After a number of embarrassing incidents in the mid-1990s, New York turned over a new leaf, if not a new chapter in the conduct of their affairs.
Admittedly rules may not be completely watertight, as there seemed to be some seepage at the end of last season, plus the surge in recent transfers also caused some skepticism.
Obvious, the abrupt turn of events caught New York by surprise and the manner in which it evolved incensed the Board.
President Monty Moloney was visibly furious as he stated that he became aware of Croke Park’s action through the media. He immediately threw down the gauntlet, saying it was “utterly disgraceful to be treated in such a manner without any consultation and that it was nothing short of a kick in the teeth.”
He also claimed that the New York GAA was seriously considering disassociating from the body in Ireland and he also informed the delegates “that we have done nothing wrong.”
Other GAA delegates were equally angered by the rashness of Croke Park. Seamus Dooley stated that “it was totally wrong as these rules were written into our constitution.” Mayoman Pat Gavin was forthright, claiming that “our image
was being tainted and tarnished and that Croke Park should point out the real
The Leitrim delegate, the voluble Paddy Gormley, pointed out that it was “pressure from the various county boards that forced McCague’s hand.” The Kerry delegate, the ever-practical John Riordan, stated that “Croke Park didn’t seem to care that they hurt several clubs financially as they would be unable to get refunds on tickets already paid for.” Dessie Farrell, the GPA
spokesman, said, “it was grossly unfair to victimize players who wished to play in the U.S.”
On Friday, Maloney finally got the call he had been waiting for from the GAA president. According to Maloney, he let his counterpart know that he was not at all happy with the recent events. Maloney advised New York’s GAA delegates to keep their cool until the GAA management weekly meeting, which was scheduled for last Friday.
These meetings generally cover the regular business of the association. The New York flap is just another item on the agenda. No resolution was reached at that session, but Maloney and North American County Board representatives have been summoned to Dublin for a meeting this weekend meeting. All transactions remain frozen until then, when New York can only hope to get some answers.
Croke Park’s action smacks of classical scapegoating as it attempts to divert attention from a far more nettlesome issue. Perhaps the actions of a number of Donegal county players was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is no secret that a number of county boards, particularly Donegal and Cork, find it an anathema that their players should
attempt to play in the U.S. Other county officials have been downright devious
and disingenuous when players have attempted to get permission. Authorizations
have been mailed so as to arrive late in Croke Park or secretaries are
conveniently on holidays when needed.
Last week, John Gilden and Adrian Sweeney were on the verge of heading to Boston to play and work for the summer, though Donegal was still in the championship. Brian Devenney had already thumbed his nose at the board as he played here with the Donegal club. According to
Reports, the Donegal county board tried to stop the players from traveling and
hence were informed that if they pressured such an action, the players would
have to be compensated commensurate with what they would have earned had they
traveled. Therein lies the problem: proper compensation or remuneration for the intercounty players.
After the Leinster Final, it was reported that the GAA treasury bulged by over another euro 1.5 million. The backdoor system has been widely lauded as almost another golden goose as waves of euros flow into the GAA coffers. Any intercounty manager worth his salt commands a fee
of euro 30,000-40,000 for his efforts. Using creative bookkeeping this figure is divided up into mileage, meal and instructional categories. Even managers of lowly and low-profile clubs pocket a few hundred and it is all tax-free. Other officials such as county secretaries also
receive generous stipends for their efforts.
However, the intercounty player
has never got on the GAA gravy train, as he is an amateur. His compensation is in the honor and pride of wearing the county colors and plenty of slaps on the back. However, the purchasing power of this type of income is zero. Somebody once said that in the GAA mentality there is a very short distance between a slap on the back and a kick in the ass.
Kevin O’Brien of Wicklow painfully learned this lesson recently as the
county board initially refused to bring him on a holiday as they claimed he had not done much for the county the year before. What more could a player like O’Brien have done for his county?
Compensation the issue
Indeed, it would almost seem that many
officials in the GAA interpret player’s needs from the time a half a crown or two bob could get you into an intercounty game.
However, the life of a county player changed radically in the 1970s with the arrival of Heffo and the Dubs. The demands and commitments increased to the level of professionalism. Kerry picked up the trend and raised the bar higher, which then became the norm for almost every county player. The backdoor and weekend games have increased and intensified the demands on the players. Perhaps a very telling comment from Kevin Moran, a former Dub and later Manchester United and Irish international soccer player, illustrated what the demands on the Gaelic players were like. “Training with Manchester United after what we went through with the Dubs was like a piece of cake,” her said.
Many players are involved with clubs, colleges and counties, each making its own demands, totally consuming the player’s life. Players have rights and are not
indentured servants. The roar of the crowd and pride in the jersey won’t get
you too far, but a slice of the financial GAA pie would help.
Croke Park has so far refused to share the wealth that is generated by the players
themselves. Who can blame a few players who wish to sample the pie over here.
As the New York GAA threatens to disassociate, Croke Park should deal with the real issue, which is appropriate compensation for the players.
(Peter Nolan contributed to this story.)