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Joe Kernan: Transfers set to become a way of life

For decades the very thought of a player contemplating a transfer from one club to another or from his native county to a different county was nothing short of anathema within the GAA.

After all, the Association has had family, parish and club at its very core since its inception in 1884 and the notion of a transfer of individual allegiance is still akin to high treason.

But times are changing. We live in a different era now where lofty ideals and the Corinthian spirit invariably play second fiddle to paying mortgages, providing third level education for children, protecting employment and battling against what appear to be ever-increasing health risks.

The Ireland of today is different too in that young people are much more independent, can think for themselves and see the world as their oyster.

This being the case, the GAA is often viewed as parochial, insular and ultra-conservative — boring even.

And thus what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘transfer market’ has been spawned.

The marketing strategy for the All-Ireland club championships has for some time now been built around the ‘One life, one club’ mantra but that is no longer a given within the Association.

Studies, work commitments, marriage and relationships are just some of the more obvious reasons as to just why players are leaving their native heath to throw in their lot with different clubs and counties.

There are less obvious reasons, of course, to explain the substantial increase in the movement of players.

Fall-outs with managers, emigration, the lure of travel and the not inconsiderable magnet of Australian Rules Football all currently serve to denude clubs of some of their most exciting talent.

Only this week one of the country’s most high-profile players, Meath’s Joe Sheridan, upped sticks for foreign parts in search of work while Tadgh Kennelly is stepping up his efforts in his role as an AFL ambassador to entice more of our best young players Down Under.

But perhaps the most worrying aspect of the player traffic is the almost casual switching of clubs.

A number of Laois players have recently switched to Dublin clubs while the on-off Seanie Johnston transfer from Cavan to Kildare has long since morphed into a boring saga.

Over 20 years ago two very prominent Kildare players, Shay Fahy and Larry Tompkins, moved to Cork with whom they won All-Ireland glory and their departure evoked much anger and frustration within the ranks of the Lily Whites.

This is in sharp contrast to Johnston’s desire to link up with Kildare.

This remains unfulfilled because of the fact that the Cavan County Board does not necessarily regard him as a resident of Straffan from where he allegedly commutes to Breifne College in Cavan where he is a PE teacher.

Bureaucracy is of course still rife within the GAA but the current social, economic and demographic situation demands that a more flexible approach be adopted in relation to transfers.

While the vast majority of players would not consider turning their backs on their local club or native county the fact remains that many are left with no choice but to do so because of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Life is no longer clear-cut for many people who are faced with big decisions rather more often.

And while sport in general and gaelic football or hurling in particular can play a big part in a person’s life, their wish to serve their local club or county can be tempered by their needs in other directions.

When Declan Darcy led lowly Leitrim to a historic Connacht senior football crown in 1994, he joined Dublin afterwards and several members of the Armagh squad that won the All-Ireland title in 2002 played for Dublin clubs.

Kieran McGeeney (pictured), Enda and Justin McNulty and Andrew McCann are among that group but while they played their club football in Dublin they still showed tremendous loyalty towards their county.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that players are being ‘tapped’ or poached just now with offers of jobs and other inducements being made to persuade them to move to different locations.

While this practice is certainly sinister, it is perhaps understandable in the present economic climate.

The de-population of rural clubs in some areas of the country has reached crisis proportions while several county boards are in dire financial distress.

These two elements represent massive headaches for the GAA and they are obviously going to be with us for some time to come if we are to believe the long-term financial and employment predictions.

This certainly does not paint a bright future for the Association and on top of this it must for the foreseeable future be prepared to accept the fact that player transfers look set to become a much bigger issue.

Belfast Telegraph

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