Jobs for the boys hits GAA hard
The announcement last week that the recession has ended has been greeted with more than a modicum of cynicism within Ulster GAA circles, particularly by many county team bosses as they gear up for the start of the National Football League this weekend.
Not only has the economic downturn forced many leading players to leave these shores to seek work elsewhere, but it has also sparked an unprecedented outbreak of travel-mania with a number of county stars either currently enjoying or just finishing global safaris.
Stephen Kernan has just returned to Armagh following a five-week back-packing trip to Asia while Derry manager Damian Cassidy is anxiously awaiting the return from Australia of the McGoldrick brothers Barry and Sean Leo, both of whom served his side well last year.
Cassidy is keen that the duo should make themselves available for the greater part of the National League, particularly as he is confronted by injury worries at present.
“You can’t stop players from leading their lives as they see fit — after all, they are amateurs. But the combination of travel, recession, Australian Rules and, worst of all, injuries can exact a heavy toll from time to time,” says Cassidy, who has commenced his second year in charge of the Oak Leaf side.
But while travel absence is usually of a temporary nature, unemployment can force players to withdraw from county squads altogether and this is proving a major worry for managers.
Only last week long-serving Cavan and Ulster goalkeeper James Reilly left for England in pursuit of employment while Donegal manager John Joe Doherty, whose side have just retained the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup, has long since come to terms with depleted playing resources because of emigration.
When Donegal overcame Tyrone in Saturday night’s final at Enniskillen, they were without last year’s captain Rory Kavanagh who is in Australia and dependable defender Eamonn McGee who is working in London. Reilly, Kavanagh and McGee are just three of Ulster’s high-profile players who will be conspicuous by their absence on Sunday when Donegal travel to Westmeath and Cavan visit Roscommon.
Several managers — and John Joe Doherty in particular — have already made earnest pleas to potential employers to secure home-based employment for players. It is understood that Brendan Boyle and Christy Toye, two of Donegal’s established players, were made redundant recently while Barry Dunnion, having failed to gain employment, has resumed studies at Sligo IT.
County boards and the Ulster Council are currently striving to give a lead in creating opportunities locally for players to remain in the province. Down has just confirmed that Martin Clarke and Ambrose Rogers will now take up full-time coaching posts which will be funded by benefactors within the county. They will join Brendan Coulter who has been working as a coaching officer for some time.
Yet while a number of high-profile county players can be accommodated by various companies such as Quinn Direct Insurance by whom players such as Martin McGrath, Anthony Forde and Shane McCabe are employed, many grassroots club players have recently been forced to travel to England the beyond in search of work.
One of the leading clubs in the province, Crossmaglen Rangers, has not been immune to this malaise and spokesman Tom McKay now suggests that the Gaelic Players Association should do more in terms of urging companies to employ players.
“I know we are living in very difficult times but a lot of clubs and indeed several county teams are being hit very hard. Donegal has obviously been a high-profile case in point lately and while there is a suggestion that the worst of the recession is over, I believe that things will still remain very harsh on the economic front generally,” insists McKay.
The drip of players to Australian Rules Football appears to have stopped for the moment at least with Martin Clarke and Kevin Dyas having returned to the province. However, Antrim manager Liam Bradley has been left with mixed emotions on this front.
Niall McKeever, so impressive for the Saffrons last year, has since commenced a full-time career in the Rules code but Tomas McCann, who scored the vital goal for Antrim in their stunning Ulster Championship victory over Donegal, has turned down an invitation to pursue a Rules career and will resume duty with his county — though he is still required by UUJ for the Sigerson Cup in which they will meet Queen’s tomorrow.