From now until the third Sunday in September county players in both gaelic football and hurling will be very much in the public eye.
The provincial and All Ireland Championships represent the shop window of the GAA and quite rightly are accorded massive media coverage with virtually every match dissected in minute detail.
County players are by and large role models for the younger generation, sporting heroes who are placed on a pedestal within their own counties no matter how successful or unsuccessful a particular county team might be.
After all the players are ‘their own’, products of the local schools and clubs who by dint of their skills have aspired to a high level.
But while the current raft of county players bask in the spotlight — some for a comparatively short period while others are still destined to be making headlines come the early autumn — there is another batch of players who sadly play no role within the Association.
They are former county players who slipped into the shadows when they brought the curtain down on their careers, adjusting to the relative anonymity that accompanies any departure from the higher echelons of the sport.
Yet I believe that such players are capable of playing an important role in any one of three segments of the GAA — refereeing, coaching and administration.
For all the talk and theory involved in grooming referees, surely the best possible credentials for becoming a top-rate whistler are to be gained while actually playing the game at the highest level?
This surely helps to give players a feel for the game and helps them appreciate what is actually involved at playing in the top tier.
That’s why I would like to see more ex-players taking up the whistle. In an ideal world, if the GAA were to recruit 20 refs every year from within the ranks of its recently retired players, this would be a huge bonus for an Association which still has its share of disciplinary problems.
Ex-county players are generally fit, they are more than familiar with the rules of the game and they would not be prepared to suffer too much ‘lip’.
Besides the fact that a player has performed at inter-county level would surely give him a head start on an average club player who might just decide to lob in a word or two thousand during a game.
Pat McEnaney was until recently our leading referee and indeed he played club football with Corduff meaning he was not only one of the fittest whistlers on the inter-county circuit but was also au fait with all the latest rule changes and well versed in coping with the time-wasting tactics, cynicism and verbal abuse that blight many of our games.
Could you just imagine players giving back cheek to the likes of Anthony Tohill, Oisin McConville, Enda Muldoon, Brian Dooher or Paul McGrane if they were refereeing matches?
They would get short shrift, I can tell you— and rightly so.
And just look at the success that some of former leading county players have achieved to date in the field of coaching.
Here I am thinking of people like Tony Scullion, Diarmuid Marsden, Enda Muldoon, Declan Bonner, Ciaran McBride, Ciaran Gourley and Kieran Donnelly who have distinguished themselves at different levels.
There are many more already retired county players who I feel could be coaxed into putting something back into the sport in a coaching capacity, even on a modest scale.
They could make a big contribution to raising coaching standards and improving players’ skills while inculcating the virtues of integrity, sportsmanship and honesty in them.
And it would certainly auger well for the future of the GAA if more former county players took up administrative roles. We all indulge in criticising officials — indeed, begrudgery is alive and well within the GAA.
Yet we are not prepared to do anything about it except talk. It is imperative that more young people — and particularly those with experience of playing the game at a high level — become involved in administration.
They are for the most part IT literate and familiar with social networking outlets.
They represent the way ahead and the sooner more young people of this calibre are introduced to the corridors of power within the GAA the better.
There are people within the Association who yearn for the old days and the old ways. These are but memories. Time has moved on ...embrace the new ways.