It’s that time of year again. College exams are over. The provincial championships are well underway, and that means the GAA clubs of Ireland being decimated by America.
Land of the free, home of the brave, as well as some of the greatest recruiters of GAA-playing talent during sanction season known to mankind.
The magnetic lure they have over the club players of Ireland knows no bounds.
Here’s how it usually goes down across the country prior to recruiting season. Club have their meetings earlier in the year.
The manager or captain stands up in the dressing room and speaks passionately about honesty and commitment to the club this year.
They ask if anybody is planning on going away for the summer; ‘if ye are thinking about it lads, put your hand up and say it now to f**k’.
Sheepishly, a few heads bow, eyes lock down on their boot laces but arms are kept firmly down by their side. Way too early in the year to be listening to flak, they reckon.
As the meeting rumbles on, everybody makes their commitments to dedicate themselves to staying around in the pursuit of an important collective goal. Whatever that might be.
It all seems genuine at the time. Clubs even try to set up employment initiatives with local businesses to make sure they find a job for every player looking for one, and they do their best to tick every box in an attempt to keep their team together through the summer months.
But, just as the evenings begin to stretch a little further, something changes. The sharks sense the blood in the water.
Maybe a club gets eliminated from their championship, or perhaps it’s gone into hiatus until the county team is knocked out. Either way, a window of opportunity opens up.
The player’s phone rings with a foreign number and 20 or so digits across the screen. It’s from the States.
On the other side of the line is a guy with a mangled mix of an accent; 20 years in Ballintubber, 20 years in the Bronx… “Robbie here” the caller exclaims, ‘I’ll cut to the chase, we’d love you to come over to be a part of our organisation and play in the North American championship with us for the summer… there’d be a nice few grand cash in it, and, of course, we’ll hook you with a job as a beer taster for two hours a day that pays about $1,000 a week, as well as setting you up with your own penthouse suite across the road from Trump Tower’.
‘Robbie’ does his best Tom Cruise impression from the movie about the super sports agent Jerry Maguire. You remember that scene, when Cuba Gooding Jr. is at home dancing around his kitchen on the phone; “Say it with me Jerry, shout it loud… SHOW ME THE MONEY”.
Now in fairness to Robbie, that’s probably the high-roller package he was selling. That’s reserved for the boys that have played county U21 or senior in the past few years.
In reality of course, for the majority, and certainly all the average Joes, most clubs in the States will try to cover costs of the flights, if that, then fire eight to 10 guys into a two-bed apartment with no air-conditioning for a couple of months. Ah the luxury.
The work tends to be early mornings, long days, and full of hard grafting on a building site somewhere that looks nothing like the postcard you had in your head.
They call Robbie about a week in; ‘Listen Rob, sorry to bother you, I’m not sure if you remember, but I signed up for the cute waitress and the beer tasting package? And there seems to have been some mix up with my accommodation as well’.
Robbie assures them he’ll look right into it.
It’s not difficult to understand why young guys would want to take off and experience something different. Just a part of growing up, I suppose.
Learning to stand on their own two feet without mom and dad doing the washing and supplementing the weekend drinking fund. Fair enough too.
The promise of bucks, broads and brewskis is too irresistible a combination for most college students and the rest looking to enjoy their summer playing ball for a bit of craic without the stress of competing for their own club to turn down.
Realistically, it’s probably the same old story. What will they actually miss? County league games sure, but I’d venture the 3,000 or so players gone on sanctions to the US this summer aren’t too bothered about the crowd at home fighting on the back for a couple of league points.
I’ve seen and heard recently of some clubs around the country taking a hard line and forbidding their players to go to America for the summer.
Even going as far as getting them to sign a contract, or a players’ charter at the start of the season, stipulating that they won’t leave for the summer.
Can you just imagine GAA clubs and coaches forbidding young amateur men from going away? The mind boggles.
Some club managers are telling players they won’t be allowed to play senior football or hurling for their club when they return home, that is if they are fortunate enough to still have games left to play.
That would have been written into the charter they signed up to early in the year. Probably forced to scribble their name in blood too.
The ironic thing is, a lot of the ones doing all the jumping up and down and forcing players to sign charters effective as an ashtray on a motorbike, are the very same spoofer managers and coaches on the circuit, in to make a tidy killing before moving on to the next one in a year or two.
All any club or county can realistically do is make is as appealing as possible for players to want to stay around by offering a viable alternative.
Have the prospect of summer work lined up, have a meaningful game structure in place to keep them playing regularly at home. Show them that the club is building towards something.
After that, there’s little else anybody can do to change their mind. You may just as well wish them well and tell them that their club will still be there when they get home in a couple of months. After all, that is what a club is supposed to be about.
A collective identity. A family — no matter where you are. Whether you’re in Ireland, America or stray to any other corner of the globe, your GAA club is always supposed to be the bedrock of your community.
Just like it is for those Irish living in San Fran, New York, Boston and beyond who need those players to keep their own identity of Ireland alive on foreign soil. Let them go, keep the home fire burning and they’ll eventually find their way back to you.
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