One of Ulster’s leading club officers has sounded a warning that unless fixtures programmes become more streamlined and the close season period is reduced more young GAA players could drift to soccer and rugby.
Tom McKay, a Crossmaglen Rangers dynamo for several years now, also maintains that the burn-out factor “is grossly exaggerated” and believes better planning could alleviate what are perceived to be potential dangers in this regard.
“I am in no doubt that quite a number of players are turning to soccer and rugby when their club or county finish their championship and league runs. When you consider, too, that a club player might finish his league campaign in October and that he won’t see action again until maybe April, you really cannot be surprised if he turns to another code,” points out McKay.
He cites the “substantial number” of gaelic footballers who are currently playing in the flourishing Carnbane Soccer League in Newry and maintains that burn-out does not appear to be an issue here.
“It’s worth pointing out, too, that as well as getting to play a match, these boys can also enjoy the social element that is attached to soccer. They are playing with their friends and they have the opportunity to participate in games that generally don’t entail too much pressure or travel,” says McKay.
A former secretary of the Newry Shamrocks club, he is convinced that the GAA authorities will need to step up their efforts to ensure that gaelic games programming is made as attractive as possible for players.
“When you read that high-profile players in the likes of Limerick are turning to rugby in winter you have to have concerns that they might drift away from GAA.
“The Ulster Council is making great efforts here to make the GAA more inclusive for all sections of the community and that is hugely encouraging but we have to make sure that our product is marketed and presented in the best possible manner,” insists McKay.
And he takes issue with the Croke Park recommendation that the popular ‘Go Games’ concept from Under 8 to Under 14 should be non-competitive.
“When youngsters go to mini-rugby sessions and under-age soccer schools, the games they play there are usually competitive, perhaps with some modifications. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with Under 8 and Under 10 gaelic football matches being non-competitive but from there upwards I think the young players would actually relish the competitive element,” adds McKay.
In lauding the Ulster Primary Schools McGreevy Cup competition, McKay maintains that it currently serves as a vital stepping-stone in introducing youngsters to competitive action.
“If you were to apply the Croke Park thinking in relation to non-competitive games, then this competition could possibly be rendered redundant,” says McKay.