In an address to the Leitrim Supporters Club earlier this year, one of the Leitrim Senior Football team’s co-mangers, Brian Breen, appealed to attendees to help members of the of the current senior panel find employment.
He specifically referred to 6 or 7 players who were currently without work, and at least 1 or 2 who had indicated they may have to leave the panel.
This is nothing new for the team. In 2011, the Irish Independent reported that only 1/3rd of the the Leitrim Senior panel who had gathered in 2010 were still on the panel.
The continuing drain of players has become more and more evident in the team’s performances. Leitrim remain rooted at the bottom of Division 4 of the Allianz Football league, and have still never managed to win 2 back to back games in the Senior Football Championship.
Like most Irish men, I played Gaelic games in my youth, and was a member of my local club.
These days, my interest is in other sports. I have a passing interest in GAA, but I am not a passionate GAA supporter, and I do not claim to understand the deep-rooted traditions of the GAA.
However, I do retain some sense of logic, and can see very little logic in what is currently happening to the Leitrim Senior Football team.
Over the last 10 years, no effort has been spared in investing in GAA facilities in Co. Leitrim.
€3m was spent on a new stand at the county ground, €2m was spent on a state of the art training facilities, and considerable sums have been invested in club facilities through grants from the Sports Capital Fund and local fund raising.
Additionally, the Connacht Council has raked in millions of euro from gate receipts at Connacht Senior Championship games, and the GAA itself has been the beneficiary of considerable transfers from the FAI and IRFU from leasing Croke Park for soccer and rugby games.
All of this revenue has been retained within the GAA organisation, and invested in either the day to day running of the organisation or facilities.
That’s all well and good, but a well run organisation and top notch facilities is of little value if the GAA’s most valuable resource, its best players, are laying bricks or pulling pints in Sydney or New York instead of togging out for their county team.
Employment in Leitrim is a very scarce commodity. An appeal to the supporters of Leitrim GAA to help find work for players is well-intentioned, but when most of the supporters themselves are struggling to make ends meet, its unlikely to bear any fruit. Similar appeals have been made before, and nothing has changed in the general decline in the talent available to the management team.
Conversely, there are thousands of people in Leitrim who are willing to pay money to watch the county’s best players in action. Granted, the gate receipts and sponsorship that are available to a small county like Leitrim are not going to provide a full time income to a panel of players, but even the payment of a small appearance fee might be the difference between a player emigrating or not.
Of course, to suggest that a player be paid for togging out for a GAA match is to many the moral equivalent of taking a sledgehammer to the Sam Maguire.
Apparently, putting €200 euro in a players pocket as he leaves the dressing room will destroy the organisation, whereas the combination of paying his manager, putting a brand name on his jersey, selling advertising hoarding around the pitch, and charging a local radio station or RTE money for the rights to broadcast the game will not.
Like I say, I am not a die-hard GAA supporter, and perhaps I don’t understand the complex fabric of the GAA and its relationship with Irish society.
All I can comment on is what I observe, and as things currently stand in Co. Leitrim, your chances or pulling on the county jersey are far more influenced by your employment status than your ability to play the game.
There isn’t any logic in that, no matter what traditions you hold dear.