Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Our GAA stars shouldn't have to sacrifice their careers

High flyer: Former Dublin manager Jim Gavin worked with the Irish Aviation Authority throughout his glittering spell as boss of the Dubs
High flyer: Former Dublin manager Jim Gavin worked with the Irish Aviation Authority throughout his glittering spell as boss of the Dubs
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

One of the elements that was left virtually unexamined following Jim Gavin's departure as Dublin manager was how he wished to devote more time to his career.

At just 48, Gavin has many years left to work and is currently employed as assistant director of the Irish Aviation Authority. He's not the clock-watching type and has a deep devotion to his work, referencing it as an influence on his management style.

But in order to progress, he needed to free up his time. Managing an inter-county team is virtually a full-time job in itself and Dublin selector Declan Darcy said recently that he regularly received emails from Gavin sent in the dead of night.

A look at the occupations of the men who have managed Ulster football counties since the turn of the century is revealing. Mickey Harte was a teacher. So too Brian McIver. Eamonn McEneaney, Mickey Moran and the late John Morrison were also in the profession. Damian Barton, Mattie McGleenan, Peter Canavan, Frank Dawson, Jody Gormley and Malachy O'Rourke likewise. Val Andrews, Pat King, Art McRory and Paddy Tally too. Also Pete McGrath, Peter McDonnell and the late Eamonn Burns.

If you go a bit deeper and look at the backroom teams, you have many teachers there too. Joe McMahon and Paul McIver with Fermanagh, Ciaran Meenagh with Derry, the list is endless.

There are solid reasons for the pathway from the classroom to the inter-county sidelines. Most of those listed above were PE teachers and in the first decade of their working lives had clocked up thousands of hours taking training sessions, travelling to and from games and managing school teams. No other occupation grants you that kind of experience.

Like most jobs nowadays, you wouldn't have to go far to find the complaints. Teachers have an increased workload, there is a lack of appreciation for staying on after school to take teams, and budget cuts have become a fact of life.

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But what will always be thrown back at them in this argument are long holidays. In a lot of cases, this is enough to tempt them into this career path, and it's exactly that facet that the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report into the lives of inter-county players has identified.

There are positives to take out of the report, such as 61% of players having a university degree, compared to 35% of the general male population of the same age.

However, what happens next is most interesting.

Juggling act: Sean Cavanagh, with his wife Fionnula and kids, Eva, Clara and Sean Jnr, has built up a chartered accountancy business alongside juggling a successful career with Tyrone and Moy
Juggling act: Sean Cavanagh, with his wife Fionnula and kids, Eva, Clara and Sean Jnr, has built up a chartered accountancy business alongside juggling a successful career with Tyrone and Moy

As the findings stated: "One in four players reported choosing a career path after second-level education that would facilitate them to play senior inter-county. This percentage was higher among top-tier players.

"Over 40 per cent of players would not select the same post second-level career path again. This figure was over 50 per cent among players who selected their post second-level education pathway because it allowed them to play inter-county.

"Some players select sectors of employment with fewer working hours (eg education). Working fewer hours, and experiencing lower promotion prospects because of inter-county commitments, may be affecting players' earnings."

It goes on to say all the usual things that are common knowledge, such as players binge drink to excess in the close season (it is not clarified what binge drinking is, although the NHS website tells us it is five bottles of beer for men), and there are some struggling to get their expenses on time.

But the fact that players are clearly not reaching their potential is alarming, and also gives a serious platform for the Gaelic Players' Association and their work in career development.

Former Dublin player and CEO of the GPA Paul Flynn recounted his own personal journey out of heavy work gear as a young plumber in the Dublin dressing room to the boardroom and a suit and tie.

Others never let it affect them. Sean Cavanagh's ambitions on the football field were matched by what he wanted in life and he has spoken on the need to stretch yourself in your career. Cavanagh is now an accountant with his own business.

The GAA, in association with the GPA, need to take a lead.

They cannot have a generation of players that grew to resent all the sacrifices they made to play the sports.

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