A royal solution to the flight of the GAA players

A royal solution to the flight of the GAA players

This week has been all about those keen to step away from the limelight in favour of seeking out an independent life of their own.

Those Gaelic footballers happy to forego the O’Byrne Cup for a bit of travelling. And Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, whose readiness to step away from their duties has already seen their waxworks dropped from the royal panel at Madame Tussauds.

We can almost picture Harry as impetuous young hurler Phil Kelly (played by Liam Heffernan) in classic RTÉ film Clash of the Ash, coldly disregarding his granny’s pleas to sit the Leaving, flaking a representative of the tabloid press during a minor match, and departing abruptly on a bus to, seemingly, Canada.

With Gina Moxley as Meghan, dispatching her man from Fermoy onto the tender mercies of the cruel world with the plea: “Take it any way you can get it, boy.”

There may have to be a job in the bank now for Harry. And it is left to the rest of us to agonise over The Sacrifices and The Demands that are turning these young men away from GAA and royalservice respectively, in the prime of their lives.

At least with the Gah we had fair warning. While we were generally under theimpression that Harry had things soft enough, the bit of inconvenience notwithstanding, we have been well aware, for a long time now, of theterrible hardship suffered by the countyman.

In homes where a nightly reflection is still in vogue, a prayer of thanks is invariably offered that nobody in the house was burdened with the talent to make the county.

So we can’t be terriblysurprised that he is finally throwing his hat at it. Or tThat more than 70 of last season’s countymen have opted out this year, by all accounts.

Yet almost as much hysteria has surrounded the missing panellists as the ‘rogue royals’, as the Daily Mail’s emergency 17-page section dubbed them.

Naturally, our first instinct is to panic and put this down, like every other Gah issue, to ‘structures’.

But we may be looking at this one all wrong. It may well be that this ability to walk away from the Gah could prove to be one of the Gah’s greatest strengths.

Because a mind of your own is belatedly becoming the most prized commodity in sport.

In this regard, it appears we may have been looking at things all wrong in rugby.

Citizens of Rugby Country will have been under theimpression that everything worthwhile in the sport could be achieved by sticking devoutly to a ‘process’. And clocking up a prescribed number of ‘carries’ and so forth.

Yet a new study conducted by Andrew Manley and Shaun Williams of the University of Bath concludes that an over-reliance on performance data is producing players without instincts, used to being told exactly what to do and unable to react when a game is going against them.

Not to mind the demandsassociated with crunching all those numbers. “Life for players is mechanistic andrestrictive. Too much data is limiting players with pressure to perform to the stats and the anxiety around that having a detrimental cost in terms of enjoyment and performance,” Dr Williams told The Guardian.

Maybe Harry, too, had enough of hitting his wavetargets on royal outings, had grown weary of studying his diplomatic work-ons.

Instead of developing free thinkers, this phenomenon has also given rise to a certain breed of chancer, as Ronan O’Gara laments in this week’s Irish Examiner column: “They are called statisticsmanipulators, lads who play their rugby to hit a set amount of rucks and get their set number of tackles. And all the while offering little material edge to their team-mates.”

Whatever causes this slavish devotion to numbers and systems and structure, what better way to solve it than by letting players off to explore the world instead of togging out in the FBD League?

And what better sign that a player’s instincts are intact than him knowing it’s time to jack it all in for a while?

Indeed, as Gaelic footballers increasingly depart the rat race of sport to relax in gainful employment, the GAA may give thanks for the release of this safety valve that could prevent the game overheating and melting down altogether.

County boards across the land are mired in financial grief due to the millions being forked into player ‘performance’ across interminable campaigns where there might be one meaningful match.

But the more players feck off and dip back in when it suits, the nearer we must be to the arrival of what would be a true revolutionary: the less-is-more county manager.

The GAA arms race was always fueled by rumour and counter-punch. That crowd were supposedly up at 6am running up a mountain, so we’ll be up and down blindfolded twice by half-five.

But what if it now goes out of fashion to have panels of lads willing to do exactly what they are told, however ridiculous?

To placate the independent thinkers, surely it’s time for a spell where everyone is hearing how little the other crowd are doing. And how handy they have it.

Where there’s a laissez-faire gaffer in charge who’ll welcome Phil Kelly off the bus, once he has seen enough of London. Who’ll assure him of a grand lie-in every Saturday morning and not to worry one bit about having a few pints during the week.

Maybe even see about that job in the bank after all. And while they’re organising the best of both worlds, what about setting him up in a nice little pad like FrogmoreCottage for the winter?

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