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Special GAA Report: Is It Time To Change Our Amateur Organisation?

The GAA has had a big few months, to put it mildly. Firstly, the news that for the first time in the organisation’s 129 year history certain championship games would only be available on pay-per-view was announced. Then, a scandal involving an ex-Tyrone footballer and current London footballer broke involving pornographic films he was allegedly involved in broke. Finally, and far less serious, a story appeared in numerous media outlets of Garda and Kerry footballer Aidan O’Mahony’s gallant actions in court where he caught a chair that was flung across the room.

Each of these cases indicates the rising profile of the GAA. It has become a popular and interesting sporting group. Now an international organisation, it boasts one million members worldwide, assets exceeding €2.6 Billion, 1.5 million people watched the football final last year, 1.3million watched the hurling. The sport is now competing with the biggest and the best, which poses the question, is it fair for it to remain an amateur organisation?

The case’s above each support the belief that it should not continue to be amateur. There is clearly a demand for it judging by the deal with Sky, players are clearly in the public eye and have their private lives consistently intruded upon. Surely in the interest of fairness they should be paid for their sport and not suffer the same exploitation that professionals do while remaining amateurs? Then again, is the fact that our sport is amateur what makes it so alluring and brilliant? Perhaps to change the amateur status would change the ethos and the entire sport as a whole? This reporter decided to investigate the matter.

The Facts

On Saturday November 1st 1884 the GAA was founded in the billiards room of the Hayes’ Hotel, Thurles. Clare-man Michael Cusack led the push for the organisation after becoming increasingly worried at the declining interest and standard of Irish games and was heavily involved in the creation of the organisation.

In 1962 the first GAA match was broadcast on the state’s national broadcast, Telefís Éireann.

In 1991, sponsorship logos were allowed appear on player’s jerseys for the first time.

In 1993, Croke Park was redeveloped. The new Cusack stand was opened and corporate boxes were introduced for the first time.

In 1999, the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) was founded as the official player representative body in Ireland.

In 2005, rule 42 barring non-Irish sports from playing in Croke Park was relaxed and the Irish rugby and soccer teams played in Croke Park while their ground was being redeveloped.

In 2007, Croke Park introduced floodlights allowing games to be played at night and the largest ever league attendance of 81,678 was recorded.

In 2010 the GPA announced they were committed to the games amateur status after they were accused of pursuing ‘pay-for-play’.

In 2013, hawk-eye or score-line technology was introduced in Croke Park.

Does these events signal a progression towards professionalism or just an amateur sport developing in the modern age?


The arguments-Pro change

There’s no doubt the GAA has developed and grown. However, many now argue that it should continue to grow and start paying players.

Firstly it needs to be stated that the GAA is not a wholly amateur organisation. The president, currently Liam O’Neill, earns a salary in excess of €100,000. They also have many paid employees in their head offices and main stadium. It is the players and their management who are amateur and the players who should be taken into consideration.

The GAA is suffering as a result of its amateur status. The biggest indicator of this is the loss of players, resulting in a loss of quality.  The Australian Football League, (AFL), is the top professional football league in Australia. They have continuously scouted young talented Irish players as there are huge similarities between AFL and Gaelic Football. Successive players have left the GAA sighting the attraction of professional sport as too appealing. As the recession continues the possibility of this filter becoming a flood is rapidly increasing.

Furthermore, players are well aware of recent revelations regarding managers being illegitimately paid beyond their expenses. A recent poll indicated that 21 out of 32 county boards believe that this occurs. Players will find it increasingly difficult to play for a manager who is being paid while they put in greater effort and receive no such allowances.

But the real issue lies in the exploitation of the players themselves. Sky did not pay for the right to show games because of the impressive sporting grounds or the passionate fans, they paid for it because of the players. The same players who work 9-5 Monday to Friday and then go training four or more times a week. These players have become celebrities and deserve the recognition and rewards for their efforts.

One example of how deeply players are affected by their status can be seen in the case of previously mentioned Kerry footballer Aidan O’Mahony. In 2006 O’Mahony was charged with an alleged assault on an off-duty doorman, the obstruction of a Garda and two charges for Public Order Act offences after an incident outside a nightclub in Killarney. He was suspended from Garda training college for a year while the case was in process and tried in 2007. But the case was dismissed, Judge James O’Connor suggesting if O’Mahony had not been a top footballer he would not have been tried at all: “I have a feeling that if it was Sean Citizen, or Sheila Citizen, there would be no prosecution and we would not be here at all today,”.

The game needs to go professional, for the sake of the players. With the introduction of salaries quality would increase and supporters and thus the GAA broadcaster and advertisers would all benefit. It’s win-win.



The arguments-anti change

“Obviously it’d be great to be paid for playing a sport I love. But with that would it mean I can’t play for my local club as well, a club I grew up with and lads I’ve been friends with for years? I couldn’t do that”

Kerry footballer Colm Cooper, 4 all-Irelands, 8 all-stars, 2004 Texaco player of the year.

“Professionalism in our association could never work and would effectively destroy our wonderful games,”

Armagh footballer Benny Tierney, all-Ireland winning goalkeeper.

“These boys that lift the Liam McCarthy are just normal lads, they’re teachers and sales people and engineers. These are just normal guys that you can bump into on the side of the street, and that’s what makes the GAA special, it’s what we are, it’s us.”

Hector Ó hEochagáin, Irish media personality.

What makes our game unique is its amateurism. We can proudly proclaim that we are one of the biggest amateur sports in the world. Becoming professional is just not sustainable.

Professionalism comes at a price. Look at soccer right now and the drawn-out, extravagant contract negotiations with players earning ridiculous amounts of money. Look at rugby, relatively recently professional and already a lack of loyalty with players deserting their local or regional team in favour of high-money moves abroad. The cult-like celebrity status accompanies professionalism. Do we really want that?

It’s a question of morals; do we want the despairing disintegration of character and principles that is seen so often in other professional sports? Furthermore, does professionalism mean players will no longer play for their counties, but play for the team who will pay them the most? Small counties with minute budgets who currently enjoy successful campaigns would perish with professionalism.

Our game would perish with professionalism.


This reporter is not going to provide a guide to as which side is right. That’s your job, you must determine yourself whether you support it or are against it. Consider all the stakeholders, both the primary ones like players, management, fans and secondary ones like county boards, advertisers, and the media. What is best for the sport is difficult to determine. But as things keep developing a debate on this matter will have to be settled. All we can do is hope that whatever decision is made does not harm our glorious and unique sport.

Maurice Brosnan, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.