Disappointment must not be mistaken for bitterness

Around midsummer, this machine produced a piece relating to the retirement of Willie Lyons as Principal of the local primary school. It was a post which stirred a vast array of emotions. Sadness at the end of an era in our area, yet, recollections of what were undoubtedly my happiest days in education.

Even more telling perhaps was the fact that since this website was re-launched on June 10th no single article has attracted more views – 1,100 at the time of typing. Which is evidence in itself of the amount of people’s lives the man from Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo impacted upon in 40-plus years of imparting education – academic, life and sporting – in the locality.

It would be safely ventured that a large number of those stopping by for a read were either current or former GAA players. If you recall, the column was headlined One man, one school, generations of stars. For that is exactly what Willie produced for our club – up to and including those who are currently engaged with county teams across the codes.

There are people up and down the country doing similar work in schools and clubs. It had to be fate, though, that I began writing this on November 9th. On that date 28 years ago An Muinteoir ticked off a very important box on his extensive, success-laden GAA CV when Dunboyne landed the Meath Primary Schools Div. 1 title for the first time.

All that came back to mind recently when news emerged that St Ultan’s star Cian McBride has been signed by the Essendon Bombers in the Australian Football League. It’s been on the cards for a while but I don’t mind admitting to being totally gutted when and since the announcement was made. Disappointment must not be mistaken for bitterness, however.

Cian McBride will be a massive loss to Meath.

Of course the lad is wished well. It’s just that it’d be impossible to quantify how big a loss the midfielder will be to Meath football going forward. Especially coming so soon after Conor Nash’s departure for Hawthorne and the fact that Ronan Jones is also currently out of the picture – albeit for different reasons. However, at least in the latter case there may be light at the end of the tunnel. It won’t be for the want of trying on behalf of yours truly if there isn’t.

Ronan Jones will hopefully return to green and gold

The whole AFL scenario germinated a very upsetting thought here – are teachers and coaches simply moulding future talents in the game for export? Now, it’d be very easy to blame the International Rules Series or mass coverage of games or even – more pointedly – one individual in particular for the regularity with which top talents are whisked away.

It wouldn’t take Stephen Hawking, either, to figure out the lure from a player’s perspective. Proper competition structure and, most importantly, proper reward for their efforts. Is there anything the GAA can do to encourage players to stay at home? Have they tried?

I’ve thought for a long time now inter-county players should get some form of proper recompense. And I don’t just mean mileage expenses. What other reward is there for the vast majority who put in effort that is professional in all but name? Honour and pride won’t always cut it.

Obviously, it’s known professionalism is a divisive issue. Recently, this corner ended up in a round-table with two very senior GAA administrators. One of whom felt mention of money would be akin to Armageddon for the Association. The other part of the triumvirate, however, was more understanding of the argument being propagated from this seat. His take, though, was that clubs who develop these players should get some form of reward – as happens when players go overseas in other codes – for it is they who will feel the loss of young proteges most keenly.

I’d hope that the line of a famous song What’s done is done, what’s won is won, and what’s lost is lost and gone forever wouldn’t apply in all cases. Indeed, there have been examples that it doesn’t have to be. We in Dunboyne had first hand experience of the impact Conor Nash had with Simonstown Gaels when home on holiday in 2017.

More recently, it emerged that Conor McKenna – incidentally also contracted to Essendon – returned home to help steer Eglish, club of the late, great Cormac McAnallen, away from the danger of relegation in Tyrone. If it was a thing that players could – for a period even – return home to assist their clubs might break the fall somewhat.

However, realistically that seems unlikely if and when players become more established Down Under. Thus, the phenomenon of players going to the other code is unlikely to go away any time soon. Especially given that it’s something which has now begun to become an issue in Ladies Football also.

The incomparable Cora Staunton being the first to make the break where she was then joined by Mayo team mate Sarah Rowe. Since then, the Dublin duo Sinead Ahearne and Niamh McEvoy have gone to Melbourne while others – including Dunboyne and Meath’s Vikki Wall – were brought out for trials.

In the interim, mind you, it has emerged that there are seemingly problems within the AFLW so player drain in that arena may not be as big a problem in the Ladies game. Then again, even with the men’s game, there have been those who have turned down Australian advances – Shane O’Rourke over a decade ago, Ciaran Kilkenny and David Clifford more recently.

Granted, in the case of the latter pair, the incentive to stay at home is fairly obvious, both being with teams that genuinely have prospects of attaining silverware each season, to put it (very) mildly in one case. Which brings me back to my original thought that changing competition structure within Gaelic football might go some way towards making staying at home and committing to the inter-county scene more attractive to the best young talents in the game.

Players, and interestingly largely those from counties whom the new Second Tier was designed for, have spoken vehemently against it. To me, that’s madness. We are constantly being told the clubs are the heartbeat of the organisation, yet, in this instance, where those in a position to do so are trying to take a leaf from how things generally go at club level they are being rebuffed.

What’s the point in teams being in a competition they have absolutely no hope of winning? It wouldn’t be allowed continue at club level and, even more to the point, steps were taken to at least try to eradicate such situations occurring in hurling with the introduction of the McDonagh, Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cup events.

However, having taken that progressive step, it appears to be a case of one step forward and two back judging by the ludicrous decision to do away with the McDonagh Cup team of the year. What anybody thought was to be gained from this asinine development is impossible to fathom? Why differentiate between other competitions which have been a very welcome addition to the GAA competition structure and the one in question? At a more simplistic level, the progress made by Laois was one of the stories of the hurling year and for them to go totally unrewarded compared to the other winners seems totally unfair.

To return to point, though, those of us who can see the merit in a tiered structure have had the task of making others see the light made all the more onerous due to the disregard with which the Brains Trust appear to treat the Joe McDonagh Cup victors and, by extension, the competition itself.

In fairness, from a player’s perspective, it’s a fairly easy calculation to make. As things presently sit, there are only a half dozen teams, at most, competing – and that’s the crucial word here – at an elite level. For the rest, there’s genuine competitive football in the formative part of the season, yet when they should be a abuzz, the majority are as idle as a scarecrow in a field of stubbles.

Doing nothing simply isn’t an option. Every option possible to entice our best and brightest players to commit to the inter-county scene. Otherwise there will be many more leaving on a jet plane.

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