Joe Kernan: Talent drain putting even more pressure on GAA
A recent survey revealed that an average of 100 senior players in every county is currently out of work.
This is a statistic which is already having grave implications for the GAA. Equally worrying is the fact that several county boards are in a serious financial plight, confronted as they are by huge debts and with only very limited avenues of fund-raising available to them.
Just this week one of the most prominent hurlers in the country, five-times All-Ireland winner James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick has severed his connection with Kilkenny to engage his passion for global travelling.
At 26, he still has much to offer as a player — he has turned his back on the game that has made him a superstar in this country.
And just two weeks before the All-Ireland final win over Tipperary his Kilkenny colleague J J Delaney was informed that he was being made redundant — hardly the kind of news guaranteed to have a player in the right frame of mind for a major match.
But this is life as we know it today. In the recent past county players in particular found themselves juggling work commitments with training, family responsibilities and social life.
Now, many have rather less commitments — and much greater worries. That’s why so many are leaving this country in search of a new life.
The findings of the survey in relation to players’ employment are a source of concern to GAA chiefs. While the Association itself has embarked on a programme of self-help in many areas by striving to create coaching roles and other jobs for players, the economic situation is so serious that funding for such posts is not available in any great quantity.
It’s hardly surprising then that some of the best players in the country in both football and hurling are jetting off to seek a new life elsewhere.
They still love their chosen code under the GAA banner and will always cherish their club but the harsh realities of life decree that in order to support themselves they are forced to perhaps travel to the far side of the world in what is essentially a survival mission.
They cannot be expected to remain here and spend the harsh winter days staring out through the window — can become very aimless and pointless and GAA activities, while still forming part of their existence, don’t put bread on the table.
It is noticeable that many clubs have much more limited player bases from which to choose right now — indeed, even more successful clubs are not immune to the talent drain.
Players who came to training up until quite recently with a smile on their face are now preoccupied with their own worries and even those currently attending universities harbour deep apprehension that they might not get a job here when their studies are completed.
The biggest concern within the GAA is that players who leave this country might not return. While many indicate they are leaving for perhaps a year or two, in reality many of them settle down in the US and Australia and get married there.
Ireland has much less allure for them — and the GAA subsequently takes a back seat.
Down, Antrim, Derry and Monaghan are among counties which have lost high-profile players in recent times.
Martin Clarke, James Colgan and Caolan Mooney have all left the Mourne squad, Niall McKeever is pursuing a career in Australian Rules in preference to wearing the Antrim jersey, Tommy Freeman was forced to seek work in London thus depriving his club Magheracloone and Monaghan of a top-class forward and Chrissy McKaigue had turned his back on Derry although he may now be returning to the Oak Leaf fold.
At a time when the Ulster Council is offering a special deal for fans for the forthcoming McKenna Cup and serious concerns are being expressed about potential clashes between championship matches and soccer’s Euro 2012 ties next summer, the struggle to woo fans has never been more intense.
Similarly the battle to keep players here is being stepped up although there is only a limited amount the GAA can do.
Nonetheless, efforts are ongoing to try and ensure that clubs can keep the bulk of players who in many cases have been wearing the jersey since they were in the Under 8 team.
How frustrating it must be for coaches and managers to see young men in whom they have invested so much effort being forced to sever their ties, thus negating the considerable endeavours made on their behalf.
Yes, life has to some extent changed for us all — but for some it has altered dramatically, perhaps forever.