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Comment: Why cash is king, even for GAA

By Declan Bogue

How are you fixed for October 27? Was thinking of heading to an event in Dublin. Black tie. Canapes. Fine wines. All in the company of one of the greatest ever Gaelic footballers, Colm Cooper.

All yours for just €500 a plate. Yeah, really. And no, of course I won't be there.

Here's the thing though. I don't have a major problem with it. I don't believe it runs contrary to the 'spirit of the GAA', because no such thing exists.

That hasn't stopped strong opposition to the venture on October 27, held in the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, hosted by Matt Cooper.

There's nothing like money to get people going. All in, this dinner is expected to rake in something in the region of €250,000 with an unspecified sum going to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and the Kerry Cancer Support Group.

There have been accusations of Cooper using the charities as some sort of a shield against criticism, while he personally profits.

Recent literature has provided us with numerous examples of how threadbare the notion of GAA amateurism really is, most vividly explained in Michael Moynihan's 'GAAconomics'.

Going as far back as the 1947 All-Ireland final, played in the Polo Grounds in New York, Paul Fitzpatrick's brilliant 'Fairytale in New York' recounts how the victorious Cavan players arrived home to be feted with the Sam Maguire Cup, players having bulging wallets thrust into their hands.

More recently, Owen Mulligan's autobiography 'Mugsy' told of the time he and an east Tyrone delegation were chauffeur-driven to the house of Barney Eastwood a few weeks after a Tyrone All-Ireland final win to be lavished with generosity by the Cookstown businessman. On their way out the door, the men were handed envelopes bunged with cash.

Money has always been synonymous with success in the GAA. The attempts by the Association to investigate what they can do in this case was a desperate lunge for the stable door with the horse already warming down from its' gallops.

In a recent 'We Are Ulster' Podcast, the GAA historian and respected writer Paul Rouse talked about it in terms of the "Increasing professionalization of Gaelic Games."

As ever, his argument was compelling as he took a scalpel to the delicate eco-system that is the GAA's status on amateurism.

"You can dress it up whatever way you want. But the simple fact is that the Government of the Republic of Ireland pay fellas to play inter-county football and hurling," he said.

Rouse is right.

But this testimonial stands alone as a commercial venture.

Former players have criticised the venture for a variety of reasons. They are entitled to their opinion, but their platform - and their media earnings - was acquired through their excellence on the playing fields.

They may correctly argue that they are engaged in work for employers.

But this too is entirely true; at some stage of the Gooch Testimonial the room will hush, the lights will dim and a microphone will be passed to Cooper. His speech will be part of what everyone shelled out for.

And that is work; performed by him. His appeal is such that he can pull it off.

There are plenty willing to pay top dollar to eat dinner in his company. He is acquiescing. Supply and demand, the fundamentals of business.

Players enjoy their careers, then some accept columns, autobiographies or a seat at club dinner dances for financial gain. It's a nod-nod wink-wink culture that allows the player to preserve a facade of humility.

All Gooch has done here is spot a gap in the market.

In the main, people are not buying tickets to this to raise funds for charities. More likely it will be a night for corporate giants providing a kickback to suppliers and investors.

If I had one wish, it would be that Colm Cooper celebrate his football life at club Dr Crokes' issue.

They would play some old clips, invite former team mates and managers up to share a few yarns and enjoy a rambunctious Killarney night.

Compare that to the sterile atmosphere of a black tie event in Dublin - Dublin - where the Gooch is sitting uncomfortably in a monkey suit in the debt of everyone who forked out hundreds to be there. It's not something that the average GAA person wants to be part of.

In the season of 'Wintertalk', money - the source of angst in the GAA since formation - will always provide something to get your teeth into.

But will a single club volunteer walk away because of this venture on October 27?

Colm Cooper gained his reputation and his name through the supernatural feats he could achieve with a football. If you want to, you can pay €5 at the gate and watch him still do his stuff with Dr Crokes. Those who want him to be more, to stand for something more than playing football and winning, are welcome to mount their Unicorn and go for a spin around La-La Land.

If there are people willing to sit down to a dinner worth 100 times that just to get touching the hem of the great man then that's their own concern.

Good luck to him.

Belfast Telegraph


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