Amid the standard issue bonfires and mayhem, one more tumultuous crowd checked the vehicle’s progress and the player turned to the journalist with a manic look on his face.
“Look at how much they love us?” said the wide-eyed footballer pointing toward the people swarming around them. “We’d be fools not to cash in on this.”
“You’ll have to be careful how you do that, though, the GAA are still very strict about amateurism,” the journalist replied.
“Money? Who’s talking about money?” asked the footballer. “I’m talking about the women.”
That was a more innocent time. Croke Park was a lurching stadium inching past its sell-by date then and getting to play there on a Sunday in September didn’t entail a squad training nearly 200 times. County teams hadn’t yet become almost exclusively the preserve of 20-something single men and, every autumn and winter, we used to hear unconfirmed reports about certain players milking a Sam Maguire or Liam McCarthy success for a few bob behind the backs of their colleagues. You know the kind of yarn. Star forward builds impressive new house modeled on South Fork by charging to bring the cup to unofficial functions and siphoning off a few quid that was destined for the holiday fund.
This week’s brouhaha about individuals hiring out their hurleys to be used as billboards for a firm of bookmakers might at first have seemed far-fetched, but the method is the only thing new here. There have always been footballers and hurlers wanting to parlay their profiles into hard cash. As the circumstances in which they play the games have changed in recent years, and the demands upon their time have grown out of all proportion, it was inevitable they would want greater recompense. This is why, despite the failure of attempted players’ unions in other eras, the GPA has gone from strength to strength. Some of the organization’s success is also down to the fact that hurling and football have never been more fashionable. What business wouldn’t want to be associated with the GAA right now?
In unveiling its plans to build a money-spinning four-star hotel on Jones’s Road, the denizens of Croke Park showed once again that they run the most dynamic sports organization in the country. They realize the commercial challenges they face in the 21st century and under the stewardship of a wonderfully progressive president like Sean Kelly are acting accordingly. Early in what promises to be the most fascinating tenure of modern times, Kelly has made appropriately ecumenical noises about opening up Croke Park and refused to take any jibe from rent-a-quote politicians and media pundits. The type of idiots who have some sort of twisted notion the GAA is out of kilter with modern Ireland, rather than perfectly in tune with the country it bestrides.
Kelly’s only serious misstep so far was his recent attempt to set up an official players’ group from within Croke Park. This very obvious effort to undercut the GPA was misguided and has, thankfully, been postponed. The players should have their own body and it should be separate from the authorities that govern the games. Trying to establish a competing association is a ridiculous waste of time given how entrenched the GPA has become in recent seasons.
“This proposed new committee cannot and will not represent all players despite Se