The economic downturn has already seen a dramatic rise in the numbers of players joining GAA clubs abroad but the inter-county game has, so far, seemed to escape the worst of the latest brain drain to foreign shores.
While livelihoods are of most importance, the potential effect on playing standards are all too obvious. A player of Matty Forde’s calibre – a former footballer of the year – was out of work and mooting a move abroad late last year.
Clare had to do without key defenders Gordon Kelly and Laurence Healy this season after the pair emigrated to Australia late in 2008 while Kevin McMenamin lined out for London in this summer’s championship having featured for Donegal in the NFL.
Leitrim’s 2007 player of the year Gary McCloskey was one of the first top-tier players to bite the bullet when he left for London towards the end of last summer and GPA National Development Officer Dara McGarty believes there will be many more like them.
“It is something that is going to affect GAA panels more and more,” said the former Sligo footballer. “Next year it is really going to hit.
“In another month’s time there is going to be a major problem because lads are going to be sitting around and not have work. What’s going to happen is lads are going to emigrate.
“It is something we want to address, to tackle now, so that county teams are not going to be without a number of players next year, which will happen.”
One of the worst-hit counties has been Donegal, whose contingent of unemployed inter-county footballers ran into double figures, but defender Karl Lacey has been one of the lucky ones to have found work recently.
Lacey this week started a job with Walkers Crisps thanks to the GPA’s Jobs Board.
“You upload your CV up onto the GPA website and the companies go on and go through your CV,” he explained in Dublin where he was named Opel footballer of the month for July. “If they think you’d be capable of doing the job or have the experience then they’ll give you a shout.”
McGarty described the Jobs Board as “relatively successful” but admits the reality is there is only so much the GPA or other initiatives can do in the current climate.
McGarty believes Tadhg Kennelly’s experiences down under point the way forward. “A number of players are taking the opportunity to go back to college. We would love to be able to assist them in that. I spoke to Tadhg Kennelly and he is the perfect example of someone who personally developed really well during his time in Australia.
“He has a degree out there from all the support structures he had in place out there for him. Your goal is that you have an inter-county player who is finished at 30 or 35 and who feels that he has been really well looked after.”
The percentage of inter-county players without employment is 12-15%, in line with overall national figures.