It’s not often we get a transfer saga like this in Gaelic games.
Cathal McShane looks set for pastures new with the Adelaide Crows and it’s caused a real stir in the GAA community.
Of course, news of a top talent defecting to play professional AFL is something that we’ve become accustomed to, however, it feels slightly different this time given that McShane is a current All-Star and is operating at an incredibly high level.
For Tyrone, it’s a blow, for Mickey Harte, it’s an outrage, for the rest of us? It’s just sad.
It’s never nice watching on as some of our finest young athletes leave this stage in search of something new but they cannot be blamed and shouldn’t be chastised for accepting what is essentially a golden ticket.
And anyway, the AFL’s apparent ‘wooing’ of players is the least of the GAA’s problems.
After all, players crossing codes in recent history pales in comparison to those who have opted out of the inter-county game yet remain in Ireland.
Gary Brennan, Killian Clarke, Michael Quinlivan, Donie Kingston, Dara McVeety, Sean Quigley and the list goes on of top inter-county footballers who have opted out of playing for 2020. According to Off The Ball, the number is now at 60 and steadily rising.
Sixty top players who have decided to forgo playing. A staggering statistic.
While 60 may have left, one high-profile player is returning in the shape of Ray Connellan. Given that he’s after trying his hand at Aussie Rules, few players are more qualified than the Westmeath man to weigh in on the primary problems facing the GAA.
As a former AFL recruit, Connellan is well aware that McShane possesses the ideal qualities that clubs look for with Irish players. While he could never blame a player for choosing the professional life Down Under, he does see the difference in that McShane is a more established player.
However, the Westmeath man is under no illusions that there are bigger problems facing the GAA closer to home.
“I suppose it is what it is,” Connellan said.
“There’s a select few getting chosen to go to Australia. I’d say the only big problem with the Australia thing is that it is generally the best young footballers that are getting picked to go.
“I think on the other side, the Australians are probably more worried about the style of player, the bigger, more athletic… I certainly never would have picked myself as one of the best footballers in the country but I certainly would have been very athletic and that’s probably why I got picked. And that’s similar to the lads who are there. If you look at most of them lads, it’s a similar style of physique, a similar style of play.
“I suppose the thing with Cathal McShane is that he’s that little bit older and more established but it’s a massive achievement.
“But we need to look closer to home. Players like Killian Clarke and Gary Brennan opting out for the year, players of that standard are choosing, for whatever reason, to not play inter-county football. What can you do? I suppose there’s an awful lot of reasons why some of them aren’t committing but we need to ask what we’re doing wrong? What can we do more to keep these guys interested?
“What are the GAA doing to entice players into staying? Player after player leaves and it’s all one way with the organisation. There is only so much you can ask of players before they start to bow out and that’s what we’re seeing now.”
Connellan was one inter-county player who commented publicly on the recent ESRI report that, according to this column, was a damning indictment of Gaelic games.
When put to the Westmeath man whether or not players are finding senior inter-county enjoyable anymore, he doesn’t necessarily buy into the narrative that they aren’t, however, he does ponder whether the juice is worth the squeeze in terms of the commitment levels required.
“I don’t know if it’s become less enjoyable. I haven’t really been involved for the past few years but I just think we need to look at the training and the commitment it’s putting on players. Whether players think it’s worthwhile when you’ve got the same teams competing every year.”
Having returned to Ireland and reconvened his studies at UCD, another issue Connellan sees with the current structure is how taxing it can be on student-athletes who are pulled from pillar to post, all the while trying to navigate their way into the real world of work, where a player’s ability to kick points means virtually nothing.
“I just think if you’re playing inter-county football now and you’re a student in Dublin, you’re probably paying about €800 in rent (a month) and then your paying fees on top of that, maybe you’re getting a scholarship from the college. If I want to play county, I’m probably training three or four nights a week, if I go looking for a job and I came around and said:
“‘Hi, my name’s Ray, I want a part-time job to help me through college.’
“‘Ok, Ray, when you available to work?’
“‘Well, I can’t work weekdays because I’ll be in college. I can’t work three to four days a week because of training with the county and then I’m actually gone one of the two days at the weekend because I have a match.’
“How are you supposed to hold down a part-time job and play county football if you’re a student? You need to eat, you need to pay rent. That’s the problem I see with lads where they are thinking; ‘how can I live and play county football?'”
Literally some food for thought.
Mickey Harte has every right to lament the loss of McShane, that’s arguably his most effective player but for the rest of us, we should be looking closer to home when it comes to problems facing inter-county football.