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Comment: GAA is holding on to fig-leaf of amateurism but dedicated players deserve more

By Declan Bogue

Last Saturday evening, hundreds of Monaghan supporters choked up the Pearse Park sidelines in Salthill.

Their men were mere seconds away from qualifying for their first All-Ireland semi-final since 1988. Galway were already safely through to the last four, but the Oriels, needing a result to join them there, had the home team well beaten.

Even before the final long peeps of the whistle came, a few made their way onto the pitch, only to be shooed off it. When the end did come, the Monaghan fans flooded the field in a riot of white and blue and celebrated long and hard.

In a previous game in the qualifiers, Monaghan beat Laois and some fans came onto the field afterwards to ask for selfies and get various items signed by the players. As it was during the heatwave, manager Malachy O'Rourke was anxious to get them off the pitch after playing in such energy-sapping heat, explaining afterwards that the first round of the Super 8s against Kildare was a mere seven days away.

Last Saturday night, he had no choice in the matter as the players mingled with family and friends.

Less than 24 hours later, Tyrone finally slayed that big Donegal beast and, emboldened by their first Championship win there in 45 years and a scene of recent heartbreak, the Tyrone fans took over the pitch.

Journalists made their way to the designated area for post-match interviews and were surprised when, after waiting for almost half an hour, the Red Hands players gradually made their way off the field.

Most had given their tops away, revealing what is now the uniform torso of the county player - abs showing, traps, pectorals and biceps bulging. Shoulders the width of the parish. It's almost - almost - enough to prompt a man to drop and do a dozen press-ups in shame.

The length of time spent on the pitch wasn't lost on Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, however, when he commented: "The big thing is that we have to get our feet back on the ground because players have no control over what happened at the end of the match.

"The supporters just flowed on to that field and were so euphoric, and we wouldn't want to get caught up in that euphoria because there are no cups handed out today, no titles won, no medals.

"It's just a stepping stone to the semi-final of the All-Ireland. The semi-final is a dangerous place to be, beaten semi-finalists are forgotten very quickly, so this is a huge match next week. There are only seven days to go so we can enjoy this for seven hours if we are lucky. After that, it's down to basics and preparations for the next game."

At the Monaghan training complex yesterday, Oriels manager O'Rourke considered the same conundrum.

"That buzz in the changing room immediately after a great win like that, you can't replace that. You don't want to dampen that down too soon," he said.

"But I think after that, straightaway it's about getting the boys physically refreshed, getting the proper food into them, starting the recovery straightaway, and then it's just over a couple of days getting them mentally refreshed. You don't want to fill their heads with too many things at that stage."

The Super 8s has brought a certain sense of wonder to Gaelic football. While it might have been superseded by the hurling action on offer, there are so many layers of intrigue now that it can be considered a fine Championship for the neutral.

However, the scheduling has been unsympathetic. Both Tyrone and Monaghan have now played eight games in 11 weeks.

"For Monaghan's case, to wait 30 years to get to an All-Ireland semi-final - and you saw the scenes after it - it would be nice for the supporters and the players to sit back and take it all in, to have plenty of time to recover and then plan ahead," said O'Rourke.

"So a week is very tight, but we are not complaining. We are delighted to be in the position we are in, we would gladly have taken it earlier on in the year so we will just make the best of it."

It's not on a par with professional sports such as soccer or rugby, but it has to be seen in a certain context.

On a Monday morning after a tough game, Ulster rugby players will have the day off, or else they will be engaged with light recovery before eating together and catching up on a lot of sleep.

Monaghan's Darren Hughes will follow a Championship Sunday by rising from his bed on a Monday morning to milk 85 cows, before doing the rounds of his fields.

Drew Wylie will be erecting power lines for ESB.

Right now, the GAA is holding onto a fig-leaf of amateurism. Several hundred people are employed full-time by the GAA.

When you enter the Monaghan training base, you notice that it has been renamed to the Entekra Monaghan GAA Centre of Excellence, a company that designs timber-frame houses, with its main production centre in California.

A total of 28 billboards advertising local companies are fixed to the fences at the entrance. Their main jersey sponsor, Investec, is a financial services group.

The only ones that are not being financially rewarded in all of this are the players. Sure enough there is a certain cache in being 'the county man', but it carries some further than others.

And most are wary about their level of profile anyway in case it is taken as a sign that their focus is not on the responsibilities of the team.

Who is to say what the rights and wrongs are of this arrangement, but you can only marvel at the dedication.

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