What's the Point?

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Post  bocerty on Mon Jan 12, 2015 10:04 am

read this article online over the weekend and thought it was well worth a share - have to say i totally agree with Joe (for once) he has hit the nail on the head here. Interestingly enough i was reading another article over the weekend were Liam O'Neill was arguing the case for county teams retaining their players aged 30 and over and that they shouldn't be discarded once they hit 30!!!! Liam its up to guys like you to make sure this doesn't happen

Joe Brolly: What’s the point?

GAELIC football used to be part of a healthy, balanced life. It was a positive, life affirming experience, exactly what sport is supposed to be. When I played with Derry, we all had trades and professions. Some had wives and children. We had time to socialise. To develop as people. To build a career. The game was precisely that. A game. We played for our clubs. We were part of our community.

But as the win at all costs creed has taken hold, the county game has become as depressing as the child in the beauty pageant. The problem is that the game has become commodified. Based on the professional model, winning is the only thing that matters. Managers come in, spend two or three years wringing the last drop out of our young men, leaving them burned out and disenchanted. Group weight training. Psychological work. Incessant testing. Pilates. Training camps. Recovery sessions. Often training twice a day, with early morning weights followed by night time pitch sessions. No wonder that when the great Benny Coulter retired this year, he said that he had no time for the modern game and was relieved to be out of it.

During the last decade, the game has slowly but surely turned toxic. There is nil concern for the long-term health or broader development of players. Instead they have become battery hens, to be used by managers as they wish. As for the managers, they are now more akin to college football coaches than the football loving amateurs of yore. Eamonn Coleman was a brickie. Not many of those on the line nowadays. Since Kieran McGeeney took over in Armagh, they have embarked on a thoroughly modern training regime. Crossmaglen started December with eight players in the squad. A fortnight after training began, only three were left. One told me life was too short. Another said “f*** that Joe. I have a life.” Last year in Armagh, the county players played two out of the fifteen club league games. It is the same everywhere.

The Boards are complicit. More than that, it is the Boards who encourage the pursuit of victory at all costs, supported by the hierarchy at Croke Park.

The result is that county players are cocooned. There is nil actual concern for their long term prospects or their real welfare. Full time work has become virtually impossible. So, players drift from scholarship to scholarship. Study PE and psychology in DCU. Then UUJ or one of the I.Ts. Maybe get a sedentary job looking after a gym or the like. The Boards co-operate fully with this dysfunctional arrangement, devoting every penny they can get their hands on to winning. As the annual bills get larger, the game gets worse.

In Donegal, Mourinho couldn’t have wrung more out of the players than Jimmy McGuinness did. The clubs in turn aped his winning formula. What else matters? So Donegal has become a footballing wasteland, where club teams labour soullessly with thirteen men behind the halfway line and rarely manage double figures.

As the race to the bottom continues, so the spectacle has become irrelevant and ethics an unaffordable luxury. After Tyrone cheated their way to the All-Ireland semi-final in 2013, Sean Cavanagh shrugged his shoulders and said to the nation, “ I don’t like playing this way, but its all about winning. Everyone’s doing it.” More depressing than that was the way county players queued up to say “ I would have done the same” and “ What else was he expected to do?” Even more depressing was the silence of the hierarchy. Instead of standing up for the game and its ideals, they said nothing. So much for life lessons.

The result is that we have community ideals but pro sport practices. At 20 years of age, the cream are sucked into this system. They receive modest GPA grants, free rent, third level scholarships, appearance fees and if they’re at the very top of the game, a car. It is a replica of the college football or basketball scene in America. Meanwhile, a critical decade in their longer term development is being wasted. And when they quit football, no one gives a ****. The GPA grants disappear. The hand outs go. What then? It is fools’ gold.

Boys should be playing hurling and football as part of a balanced life. Instead, they are indentured servants, harnessed to the yoke of winning at all costs. I was at Na Rossa a few years ago when Donegal were holding a weekend training camp. I went into the local shop and spotted three of the senior players filling a bag with ice cream, sweets and chocolate bars. I walked up and tapped one on the shoulder and said “ Does Jimmy know about this?” He said “ Sure we have no life. No drink. No women. If we didn’t eat rubbish now and again we’d go mad.”

This foul philosophy is permeating all levels. Development squads are churning out athletic clones who can tackle furiously and run the ball out of the defence. My son is in the Antrim u-15 squad. If I tried to pull him out of it, there’d be warfare in the house. He already has plantar fasciatis, a serious foot condition caused by impact on growing feet. Two years ago, St Brigid’s of Dublin won the All-Ireland football feile. In the run up to the finals, these thirteen and fourteen year old boys had a training camp at Carton House. The mother driving her daughter to the beauty pageant…..

The problem is that if winning is all that matters, then 99% of us will be losers. If coming second is worthless, then what is the point? So, the losers become demotivated. In Leinster, for example, Dublin’s resources allow them to be the professional athletes the game now demands. The others have long since given up trying to compete. Each year, their victory margins grow ever larger. What’s the point?

Our lads train like Olympic swimmers, with no time for a social life and little opportunity to develop as human beings. The players have become commodities. The tunnel vision required for the modern county game is unnatural. The lifestyle is dysfunctional. Little wonder that the GPA are reporting significant increases in addiction and mental health problems. Yet, they are a big part of the problem. Their approach to player welfare is glossy and superficial. It is their grants and scholarships that prop the system up, getting the players used to hand outs and spearheading the drive towards a pro game.

Travis Tygart, head of legal affairs at the US anti doping agency, was so concerned at the win at all costs attitude that he commissioned a landmark work. Entitled “ What sport means in America” it’s findings were shocking. The authors found that the win at all costs approach permeated all levels and age groups. They found examples of children being given supplements by parents. They found that cheating was endemic and ethics irrelevant. They concluded that sport was no longer a positive thing, that it created dysfunction and corruption and that the win at all costs approach had become all consuming. “ The emphasis on winning and winners is what sends people out of sport. Children feel such enormous pressure to win that when they can’t win, they quit.”

The US is not alone. A recent nationwide study in the UK found that 2/3 of children in sport felt pressure to cheat to win and over 1/3 said they felt no remorse when they cheated. Stephen Baddeley, Director of Sport at Sport England, wrote after the London Olympics that “ Focussing rewards, celebrity and resources on the top few doesn’t help anyone. Instead it sends out the message that sport is only about winning and if you cannot win, you may as well not bother.”

Our games have become hijacked by an obsession with winning. True sport should be about a balanced, healthy life, higher self esteem and genuine satisfaction. After we won the All-Ireland, I stood in the showers thinking “what the f*** was that all about? Is this it?” Luckily for me, I was back in court two days later kicking crap out of an angry RUC sergeant.

But as the hierarchy has embraced commercialism and paid lip service to the problem (the laughable winter training ban) the county game has become the antithesis of sport, hijacked by the GPA and the managerial cartel, encouraged by the Boards. Last year’s football championship was the worst on record. Robotic, systematic and unwatchable. Take Mayo and the Dubs and James O’Donoghue out of it and there was nothing to savour. The final was intensely depressing and joyless, a bastardisation of the ideal. Kerry won but who cares?

The hierarchy needs to act now and act radically: Abolish the subsidiary competitions. Start the national league in January and finish it in March. Start the championship in April and play the All-Ireland finals in late June/early July. This way, the clubs would have a clear run from June to Christmas. It would be a bold affirmation of our core ideals and a great starting point for the restoration of the GAA.

Alternatively, we can place our faith in the winter training ban.
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Post  Thomas Clarke on Mon Jan 12, 2015 12:41 pm

Unfortunately, Joe's solution of limiting the intercounty season to Jan-June won't help any of the real and worrying problems that he outlines in his article.

A few years ago I could never have imagined a time when I would have entertained the notion of professionalism in the GAA, but I think it deserves real consideration.

The demands on players, often self-imposed, are too great for any amateur pastime, and the damage that it does to the careers of all bar the elite can be considerable. Managers are paid fortunes for training junior club sides, while every county in Ireland seems set on building state of the art stadia and centres of excellence. There is money out there, but most of it is being wasted.

Then you have brilliant players like John Galvin who are retiring with nothing to show for their toils, simply because they grew up a few miles the wrong side of some rural border. It's easy for players/fans of Dublin and a few other top counties to extol the virtue of the status quo, but the reality is that, no matter how good he is, a lad from Fermanagh, Leitrim and any of 20 other counties will be lucky to win a provincial title throughout his 15 year career, nevermind a Celtic Cross. I just don't see how that is fair, especially as the commitment they put in continues to spiral.

I know that the money is not there to support 32 county professionalism, and that the entire structure of the GAA would have to be changed forever, but I can't help thinking that it may ultimately be fairer for all concerned, and may even see the club game regain its status as an enjoyable pastime as a result.
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Post  bald eagle on Tue Jan 20, 2015 10:47 am

Joe Brolly is a hypocrite, he had no problem missing games for Dungiven when playing for Derry, especially in 1993 when the Derry SFC Final was played on St. Stephens Day!  He wasn't worried about the plight of the poor club player in Derry that year, and in the years that followed when they trained like dogs but had to wait until their clubs county players returned before they played their county championships!  He wasn't worried about the possibility of the county player playing too many games then either!  I understand that the demands of the game has changed since Joe played, however his stance is one that stinks of being 2 faced.

My views are mirrored by Paddy Heaney in his recent column here -

There is a huge amount of merit in Joe’s depiction of how an amateur game has spiralled out of control. However, I would disagree with him on one point.

According to Joe, most of these issues are a relatively recent phenomenon. When Joe was playing, he says “the game was precisely that. A game. We played for our club. We were part of our community.”

That’s not how I remember it. I played senior club football in Derry during the era in the early 90s when Eamon Coleman was trying to guide Joe and his team-mates to All-Ireland glory.

As a club footballer, we rarely played matches. My overriding memory of that period is of training and training and training.

Weeks would pass by without league games ever being played. When we did get a game, we usually had to field without our four county players (Enda Gormley, Damien McCusker, Fergal McCusker and Gary McGill), all of whom would have been instructed not to play.

Last year, Armagh’s county footballers played two out of 15 league games. In 1993, Joe Brolly wouldn’t have played a huge amount of league games for Dungiven either.

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Post  OMAR on Tue Jan 20, 2015 10:58 pm

EAMON McGee admits to being baffled — and annoyed — by it all.
Over the past few weeks, the debate in the GAA — partly driven by Joe Brolly — has been about supposedly unsustainable demands on players.
We’re told again and again that players are forced to live sterile lives, that they endure rather than enjoy Gaelic football.
McGee has been around the block. He started out with Donegal in 2003 and turns 31 in April.
And he doesn’t recognise the picture of the game that’s being painted.
“It really frustrates me to be reading this craic,’’ he said.
“I got really, really mad reading Joe Brolly’s article saying we’re under pressure and we’re slaves and all that.
“I have never been in a dressing-room where the door was locked. I could always leave.
“I’m sure if it was affecting my life to such a degree, I could just walk away. Nobody’s keeping players there.
“I’ve heard former players saying ‘it affected me, I wasted three years of my life’ and all this kind of stuff.
“If you want to have the craic, play reserve football.
“If you want to take it a wee bit seriously, play senior football.
“If you’re in there to win and willing to make the sacrifices, go up to county level.
“County players could be looked after a bit better in terms of education.
“There is definitely stuff to work on, and the GPA are doing good work there.
“But I enjoy it. I get up for the gym in the morning and I enjoy it.
“I have the craic with the lads when we meet up.
“I just find it ridiculous. Joe Brolly’s banging on about the pressures on the modern footballer and he’s the man who called out Sean Cavanagh live on TV saying he’s not a man, that he wouldn’t have a pint with him or whatever.
“He made a personal attack on Rory Kavanagh as well, and Rory had to go into school and teach kids the following day.”
A few years back on The Sunday Game, Brolly declared that “watching Rory Kavanagh go on solo runs must be one of the most depressing sights in Irish life.”
So McGee finds Brolly’s current stance hard to take.
“This is the same boy now that’s giving out about ****ing pressures on inter-county footballers,’’ he said.
“And he says too that it’s win it all costs and that this is ruining the game.
“But that’s not exclusive to Gaelic football. That’s in all sports.
“Children are brought up to win at all costs. That’s a societal problem.”
McGee will start against Fermanagh in the McKenna Cup today at Ballyshannon.
A bitterly cold winter Sunday is a far cry from his last outing with the county — September’s All-Ireland final.
But McGee maintains that it still has an appeal — as does working with new Donegal manager Rory Gallagher.
“I ****ing hate January but there’s still a bit of buzz about it,’’ he said.
“I remember this time last year and we were doing a bit of dogging in training.
“Karl Lacey just emptied himself on one of the runs and then stepped up to lead the run out again.
“That kind of stuff is really inspiring and drives you on.
“Those are the moments that you get a wile buzz from.
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Post  Thomas Clarke on Wed Jan 21, 2015 2:10 pm

So, Brian Cody says that  players should always be prepared to kill to win a game.  I'm sure that some will see this as further evidence of Cody's greatness and the reason behind the success of his sides, but I think that it is a stupid and irresponsible thing to say.  Young lads don't need to hear that type of rubbish from a supposed role model.  They need to know that there is more to sport than destroying opponents in any way you can.

Sport for most people is about enjoyment, and should always be played in a spirit amounts to 'trying hard to win, but accepting defest graciously should it come along'.  Cody needs to either embrace a sense of perspectitve in life, or develop a vocabulary that more accurately conveys what he means.
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