Trading places – what if there was a transfer market in the GAA?

WAYNE GRETZKY, I’m sure, could well swing a hurley if you pressed one into his hand. But I don’t know if ice hockey’s Ringy has any interest in Gaelic Games.

‘The Great One’, as he’s known in North America, came to mind this week, when reading of the GAA All-Ireland SFC launch, which was held in Kerins O’Rahillys in Tralee.

With these set-piece affairs often serving up reheated quotes, RTÉ’s Ger Canning, admirably, nudged each of the provincial champions’ representatives for a fresh morsel of information.

Coming from someone who turned up to interview Damien Duff with a Tomy Super Cup game under my arm and went shopping for a cricket bat before an appointment with Stephen Hunt, I appreciate the lengths taken in an attempt to get a less jaded perspective from sport’s best and brightest.

Canning enquired who Dublin’s Alan Brogan would sign in an open GAA transfer market?

Like the schoolyard skipper, which I’m sure he often was, he quickly picked Kieran Donaghy, hurting the feelings of his own friends in the room.

Tyrone’s Stephen O’Neill opted for Colm Cooper – and said he’d drop himself pragmatically, while Michael Shields explained that with so many left-footed forwards in the Rebel set-up, a Steven McDonnell would be nice. No Paul Galvin pulling into Páirc Uí Rinn then before a grip-and-grin snap with the famous blood and bandages?

Micheal Quirke – a giant of a man who looks like he’s sent more than one defender into a black hole in his time – insisted he’d like a time machine so he could whisk away a 25-year-old Darragh O Sé in the DeLorean passenger seat. (Although, you’d half expect one of the voices from the Lotto ads to ask: “But if you had a time machine...)

Mayo’s Trevor Mortimer, still obviously smarting from another Croke Park capitulation in the NHL final against Cork last month, shrugged glumly and admitted that they need a few players to transform their fortunes, such as they are, this year.

If it’s Roman Abramovich-like petro-dollars that are needed to bring the Sam Maguire to Mayo, surely Shell, with their local interest in the Corrib Gas Field will... what... what’s that? Okay, let’s not go there.

Gretzky, of course, was the subject of what is known stateside as ‘The Trade’.

On August 9, 1988, the NHL was forever, they say, changed with the single stroke of a pen, a handshake and a clap of flashbulbs.

The Edmonton Oilers, with a still-warm Stanley Cup win, signed an agreement that sent the Canadian national treasure and the greatest hockey player ever to address a puck, to the hapless Los Angeles Kings in a multi-player, multi-million dollar deal.

So followed much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

To paraphrase the Simpsons’ Lionel Hutz, I don’t use the word “genius” very often, but Gretzky was the greatest genius in the history of ice hockey.

And now, Canadians, not expecting their iconic son to ever cross the border without travellers’ cheques in his breast pocket, were faced with his permanent departure.

Like Bertie wading in to the Saipan schism, MPs in Ontario demanded the transfer be blocked. News programmes began and finished with the story. The world kept turning, just a little slower in Canada. It was cold.

Meanwhile, in sunny Hollywood, Gretzky’s mere presence on the ice ensured the unfashionable sport was at last ready for its close-up. The spit-and-sawdust shop floor of pro hockey rolled out the red carpet to the likes of John Candy, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson who squeezed into the benches in the modest Forum Stadium in Inglewood.

The deal knocked the wind out of an entire country and the truly heartbroken city of Edmonton in Alberta. But it placed a star-studded city right at the humble feet of a 27-year-old kid.

This is what happens when a slick of money washes over a national pastime.

It’s fascinating to think what would happen if a delegate stood up last month in Newcastle, Co Down at the association’s annual Congress, proposed the introduction of a transfer market, was supported by a wave of hands and – juslikeda! – the shutter went up on a new era of wheeling and dealing in our national games.

Joe Canning, I’m sure, would cost more than Fingers or Seanie Fitz. But a county like Dublin would like well to lure him to the bright lights of the east coast. Someone like Donal Óg Cusack would circumvent the whole system and a Bosman would, overnight, be known as a Cusack. Transfer deadline day would see us watching Marty Morrissey for 12 hours juggling two mobiles as he tracks the progress of an SUV carrying Mattie Forde towards Mickey Harte’s house. Kansas, not in it, Toto, etc.

And what of the hyperbolic Greek tale of The Great One and The Trade? Gretzky married Janet Jones – star of Police Academy 5. But he never won another Stanley Cup. His old friends back in Edmonton rarely felt the Californian sun on their backs – but they won more titles together.

Gretzky cried an ice rink at his last press conference as an Oiler. And then he crossed the border. The GAA never will, but it’s fun to imagine. Good question.

Contact Twitter: @adrianrussell

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