The inter-county GAA season has now closed which means that managers and most players can reflect on the year that has been and look forward to next season. Galway and Dublin claimed the McCarthy and Sam Maguire cups respectively.
The hurling championship was dramatic and entertaining from the outset while the football championship again failed to deliver a consistent pattern of true excitement. Mayo’s games were probably the best, including the All-Ireland final but unfortunately Mayo fell once more at the final hurdle albeit by the narrowest of margins. The club championships throughout the country will now be the focus for GAA enthusiasts as semi-finals and finals will be played over the coming weeks.
It’s that time of year when managers may decide to quit, stay or move. Former Donegal manager Rory Gallagher has taken up the reins in his native Fermanagh. My former playing colleague Declan Bonner has since been appointed to take over from Gallagher in the Donegal hot seat. It’s a natural progression for Declan since he has managed the Donegal minors through to U-21 level.
All inter-county managers have their ‘knockers’ nowadays and Bonner’s appointment has been met with mixed approval. I feel that managing any inter-county team brings an inordinate amount of stress because there is so much emphasis on winning. Donegal hit a new low last year and it will be Bonner’s responsibility to rebuild and restore confidence in the Donegal squad. Already, there is word that some former Donegal players will come back into the panel, namely Leo McLoone and Odhran Mac Niallais. I also understand that a few more of last year’s U-21 players will join the squad. One such player will be Red Hugh’s man Stephen McMenamin. Bonner rates McMenamin highly as we do here in Killygordon.
The new Donegal manager is inheriting a good squad with lots of potential. The new additions will bolster the panel which will mean stiff competition for places. When one considers the quality of opposition in Ulster at the moment, an Ulster title is very much within reach. We saw how the best team in Ulster, Tyrone, failed miserably against Dublin.
There is much to be hopeful for Donegal but, we do need patience in the next two seasons. Dublin are still the standout team in the country and it’s hard to any team being able to dislodge them as All-Ireland champions next season.
It was interesting to note the flack which Dublin manager Jim Gavin took after the final whistle had blown in this year’s All-Ireland final. Former professional cyclist and journalist Paul Kimmage along with former Meath footballer Bernard Flynn had a go at Gavin for not being emotional when Dublin won their third successive All-Ireland title. Kimmage also believed that Gavin was disrespectful to the Mayo players and supporters by not being empathetic. I agree wholeheartedly with Kimmage and Flynn but,wake up and smell the coffee.
The spirit and heart is fading in the GAA. The entertainment value, especially in football is decreasing. Rarely now do we see players having fun, having a laugh or enjoying themselves. It’s about winning. Dublin exemplify exactly this. They operate at a professional level where winning is all that matters. It isn’t their fault. They have simply raised the bar and brought our sport to a different level.
The GAA has a brilliant product in Gaelic games. The problem is that they don’t know how to control it. One only has to get a glimpse into the recesses of headquarters as the 1992 squad did on All-Ireland final day to witness the corporate commercialism that powers the GAA. It’s awesome. Dignitaries and celebrities mingle and chatter about banal issues. Little thought is given to those grassroots men and women who volunteer their time to keep the GAA flag flying week in and week out. And of course, we have the players, past and present who are treated with similar diffidence.
Some players do profit from their profile. Many of the Dublin players are well remunerated from endorsements. These are few and far between but, one player has taken commercialism to a different standard. Recently retired Kerry player Colm Cooper will hold a testimonial dinner which will raise €250,000. Indeed, a percentage of this will go to various charities.
Players do not get paid for playing Gaelic football but, as the GAA progresses deeper into the commercial and corporate world, players will inevitably try to get a slice of the cake. It is not unusual nowadays that inter-county players will be provided with cars by auto dealers. I don’t disagree with the perks that the few receive. We have to realise where the GAA is currently and where it is going. We are well into the professional era. Winners will be rewarded and losers forgotten. Dublin manager Jim Gavin and his players are modern GAA superstars. Unfortunately, this is what the rest of the GAA has to aspire to.
If Declan Bonner wins the All-Ireland title with Donegal, I dare say he will sit smug in his manager’s seat emotionless. If Bonner’s celebrations in 1992 are an indicator of how he will react, then we are going to have one great party!
Keep the faith!