Category: Archive

The cheek of it all

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

In the chapter headlined “Professionalism and Amateurism,” the peerless centerfielder advocated having five full-time professionals on each county senior team, financial bonuses for every player who plays in a provincial final and 10 percent of the gate at an All-Ireland final to be divided among the participants on the field. A legend who trained so obsessively that on occasion he would skip a meal and drink a glass of water instead as a measure of self-denial, his proposals predate the establishment of the Gaelic Players’ Association and the current brouhaha about the Cork hurlers by just over a quarter of a century.
In the context of what was considered radical back in the early 1970s, the list of demands made public by the Cork hurlers at their press conference in the Imperial Hotel last Friday are truly shocking. How dare a group of athletes who are basically unpaid professionals demand to be treated with a small modicum of respect? The cheek of them, requesting that their fanatical desire to get fit be assisted by the county board that makes huge sums of money off their backs every summer. Not to mention the crazy stuff like wanting to get trains instead of buses to games and asking to be properly fed after training. In the early years of the 21st century, did you ever hear the like? Who do these chancers think they are, asking for 20 complimentary tickets each per championship match?
Well, the answer to that is simple. They are a group of the most dedicated athletes in the country, a squad who have made and continue to make enormous personal and professional sacrifices in order to become good enough at their chosen sport to represent their county. Having spent a large part of their lives honing their hurling skills to the elite level, they were shocked when they got there to discover that the infrastructure in their native county neither supported or facilitated their ambitions. The GAA may be an amateur organization (and nowhere in all this have the Cork hurlers asked to be paid for their efforts) but every fool on the terrace knows that these days any team harboring serious All-Ireland ambitions must prepare as professionals. The 30 revolutionaries who put their name to the strike document are only guilty of wanting to compete on a level playing field with their peers.
As long as this strike goes on, and right now it looks like this could take a while, there will be a lot of guff talked about these individuals somehow sullying the great tradition of the game. Much of this cant will be put out there by apologists for Frank Murphy, the county board secretary and hurling selector who many feel runs the Cork GAA as his own personal fiefdom. Cork might have one of the richest hurling heritages of all — from Christy Ring through to Jimmy Barry Murphy — but to compare either of their eras with today is facetious. The past is a foreign country, they did things differently there. Neither Ring nor JBM ever had 100-plus training sessions before their first championship match of the summer. Few, if any, of their teammates had the sort of jobs with multi-national companies where lengthy absences from the desk for hurling-related reasons damaged their professional prospects.
People forget that as Ireland has changed irrevocably in recent years, so too has the nature of its games. The days when an intercounty team got down to serious work two months before their first championship match are long gone. To be a Cork hurler or Kerry footballer now requires an unbelievable physical effort on behalf of the individual. Apart from the effects on their personal lives — try telling a wife or girlfriend that you will be unavailable half the nights in the year because of training and matches — this involves lengthy hours in the gym, constant watching of diet and lifestyle, and a rigorous 12-month-long pursuit of excellence. It is certainly a privilege for any man or woman to represent their county (and the world is full of people who wished they’d have had enough talent for the job), but it should never be a penance for those who make the cut.
When the county board ruled earlier this year that the Cork hurlers should take a bus the length of the island to Derry, rather than fly, they also demanded the squad take a day off work to ensure the journey could be made on time. This was, more or less, the straw that broke the camel’s back. That no team doctor accompanied them to the game summed up what they quite rightly consider gross amateurism. This sort of approach might have been OK back in the day when hurling helmets were still regarded as something worn by cowards, but it’s not anymore. Contemporary GAA players know how much money they generate each year for the organization and, thankfully, are demanding that their importance finally be acknowledged.
In the same vein, D.J. Carey recently drew attention to the spectacle of his Kilkenny teammates running around a dog track one week after winning the All-Ireland in an effort to raise money so the best hurling team in the country could have a decent holiday. If that scene sounded like an out-take from the satirical television show of the ’70s “Hall’s Pictorial Weekly,” the joke really isn’t that funny anymore. In Cork, we have a situation where hurlers have put themselves on the line in order to force the hand of the authorities. Some of these men realize that when the dust settles, their intercounty careers will never quite recover from this incident, and under those circumstances, it is a selfless thing for them to do. They deserve and have earned the support of all true fans in this endeavor.

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