Martin Kiely – Time to protect our young GAA players

Martin Kiely – Time to protect our young GAA players

This weekend the annual congress of the GAA takes place in Carlow.

There was a time when the grassroots of the association had more influence at the once a year national gathering. Much has changed in recent years and now the lads on the ground are left picking at the leftovers.

Some in Croke Park might not agree with that statement but much of what they do now is very much corporate based. It’s a far cry from the values of the founders that made the journey to Thurles in 1884. The GAA has changed and a lot of the change has been good but sadly now this great organisation at every level is driven by money, lots of money and so many people are making huge sums from what is still classed as an amateur organisation. The bedrock of the GAA is its clubs, many of them are struggling while many in Dublin are bigger than most businesses down the country. The gap is growing as big clubs get bigger and the small ones will just fade away.

Many of the young people have left rural areas and more will follow. Rural Ireland is dying and in many cases it is dead but so too are many GAA clubs.

The GAA in Dublin is growing massively both in football and hurling. They have a huge player base and so many of the clubs are now making huge profits. To make matters even worse they receive the biggest allocation of grants from Croke Park while other small counties are struggling to promote games in schools and at underage level. I don’t expect we will hear too much about that at congress this weekend but I would like to see someone in Croke Park showing leadership for the greater good of the games on a national level.

Money is the greatest enemy of the GAA. So many within the organisation are now consumed by it. The proceeds from most lottos are now used to pay lads to manage and train teams. Clubs themselves find this time of year very difficult because in most cases they are faced with handing out €10,000 and more to cover insurance and registration. I may be wrong but I sense the fun has gone out of the GAA. Most clubs are finding it very hard to encourage people to get involved because they know the task facing them.

Everyone wants to win but it comes at a cost. Sadly many players in clubs won’t listen to a local voice and those in charge have to raise the money while players give out about paying their membership.

Croke Park is now guided by a lot of what happens in the corporate world. 52% of all income now comes via this arena. I know money goes into coaching, clubs, counties and much more but the power base is very much in Dublin and the grassroots no longer have the sway they once had. Croke Park will use words like for “commercial reasons” to get things over the line but has it all gone too “commercial”?

The GPA were formed some years ago and much of what they were about was centred around player welfare. They have moved on quite a bit in recent times and they too have become very commercial minded. They have and continue to receive millions from the GAA but unlike any other part of the GAA they do not publish their accounts. This is wrong. Why does the GAA allow this happen?

They are an elite group that have no interest in assisting club players. Playing games in America provide opportunities for revenue streams for the GPA but that is of little use to the small club struggling to keep the games alive.

Building links with the corporate world and playing golf in the K Club show how this group are far removed from the realities facing the GAA at club level.

One of the burning issues going into this weekend’s congress centres around a plan to curb stress and burnout of young players while also finishing club games in a calendar year.

It will be very interesting if these proposals are passed but from what I hear many counties will have problems with them.

There is some solid evidence to suggest that many young players are finding it very difficult to serve so many masters at club, colleges and inter county level. I mentioned fun earlier and so many of our young players no longer enjoy the game, this is very much the case at underage level. Take a young player that is part of a development squad and comes in at U-14 level. He could be part of a system for four years up to minor level not to mention time with club and school.

By the time many of these players reach the age of 20 they are burnt out and leave the game. At the recent coaching conference in Croke Park, Pat Daly produced figures that clearly outlined how so many are leaving the game. Young people are not allowed grow, they don’t have time for batting the ball off the gable end of the house or hurling on concrete or tarmac where good hand and eye skills are learned. It’s all pressure learning now and that’s not fun.

The amount of young players that now require hip operations has risen by 362%. That to me is player abuse. Every manager wants to take what he can from the player but very few are worried about his welfare.

If the GPA want to get some respect they will fight to end the abuse of young players on development squads and young players playing at colleges and county level.

The culture of youth is to take risks but education and leadership are required to protect them.

The GAA has the power to make change in this area and by doing so it would serve the long term interest of the GAA but most of all the long term interest of young players. Congress may or may not change the playing calendar this weekend, but that aside they can improve the lives of young players on development squads.

They can insist managers of county and college teams put player welfare first and not their own egos.

For the sake of our players I hope common sense prevails and counties back change for the good of our players.