Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

GAA stars put soccer in shade

Pastures new: Former Antrim player James Loughrey is currently fulfilling a fresh role with Cork

For all its many perceived faults the GAA still retains one intrinsic element – the loyalty of its players.

And with the media currently dominated by the respective wish lists of Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez this helps to highlight the fact that gaelic footballers and hurlers rarely have any wish to stray beyond their county boundary in their quest for recognition and honours.

Money of course talks within the GAA but it positively screams when Premiership players seek to better their lot.

Suarez and Rooney both emphasise that they want to be winners, particularly in a European context, but they also wish to be handsomely rewarded by transporting their talents to pastures new in this quest.

It is still anathema within the GAA when a player turns his back on his native county to transfer his talents to another without any discernible credible reason.

The ongoing recession, however, has served to mellow feelings when this happens now as players seek to pursue careers and opportunities that are simply not available to them in the straitened circumstances in which Ireland finds itself today.

Over 20 years ago there were rumblings when Larry Tompkins and Shay Fahy left Kildare for Cork and they duly helped the Leesiders to enjoy glory days.

It was a clear case of Kildare's loss becoming Cork's gain and the same thing applied when Declan Darcy left Leitrim to seek fame with Dublin some years ago after captaining his native outfit to an all too rare Connacht title.

He may have thrown in his lot with Dublin but at least Darcy left an encouraging legacy in Leitrim.

That did not quite apply to Seanie Johnston, though, when he forsook Cavan last year to align himself with Kildare.

Johnston was less than pleased when he was left out of the then manager Val Andrews's panel and promptly set his sights on a move to Kildare which took place amid considerable fuss and the proverbial forest of newsprint.

Now he's looking to return to the Breffni County, the tug on his heartstrings becoming stronger – or is it because he has not been a major success in Kieran McGeeney's side?

Indeed, his activity in their colours has been limited while Cavan, without his services, have leapt to prominence at senior level recently, the momentum for this having initially been triggered within their thriving Under 21 sector.

The most recent Ulster player to adorn the colours of a county other than his own is James Loughrey.

The Antrim wing-back went to live in Cork some months ago and had intended to play only a little club football there if offered the chance.

But Loughrey, who helped Ulster to win the inter-provincial championship title earlier in the year, soon came to the attention of Cork manager Conor Counihan and suddenly found himself pitched into championship action.

Even in the team's recent All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin, Loughrey still managed to look impressive and no doubt will continue to serve the Rebels for the immediate future at least.

Knowing Loughrey as I do, Cork will enjoy his 100 per cent commitment – and this will be in sharp contrast to those soccer stars who kiss the badge on their jersey and then pursue the quick buck wherever they can.

GAA President Liam O'Neill recently hailed the contribution of all players in this year's All-Ireland football and hurling championships, citing their skill levels and commitment.

Players invariably take a great pride in wearing their county jersey – they know they are representing their own community and that they are ambassadors for their little corner of this country.

That's why when the possibility of pay for play within the GAA is mooted – and what that really means is rewarding county players only – I shudder.

You cannot buy loyalty – players either want to play for their county or they don't. I firmly believe that.

Even though we are in a recession, it is virtually impossible to put a price on what a dedicated club and county player can offer.

As we approach the All-Ireland semi-finals, it is interesting to note that all four teams still in the running for 'Sam' comprise players who are natives of those individual counties.

Thus when Mayo meet Tyrone on Sunday week there will be no ambiguity – it will be a battle between two teams comprising players who will be prepared to die for the jersey.

No manager would have it any other way.

And when Dublin and Kerry go face to face on September 1 it will be a case of same again.

I know that much is made of the sacrifices that players make in terms of training, preparation and planning for big games but it is recognised that this is because of their sheer love of their chosen sport.

The vision of a vibrant 'transfer market' within gaelic football is abhorrent and would certainly not find favour with the fans.

The occasional set of mitigating circumstances will continue to determine just where some players will play their football rather than in their home county.

But it should be left at that. The GAA is built around a player's native club and county and it's imperative that, by and large, it should remain this way.

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