O’Shea: Pay for play and franchises will happen

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea believes the inter-county GAA landscape is destined for seismic changes with smaller and weaker counties amalgamating and franchises emerging where players are paid for their services.

O’Shea: Pay for play and franchises will happen

O’Shea was speaking on the back of tweets he posted last week where he welcomed the Sky broadcasting deal with the GAA while questioning why players remained outside the loop when it came to the money surrounding the modern game. He also added that the arrival of Sky would force RTÉ to up its game and claimed that the state broadcaster had become “lazy” due to their long-time monopoly of rights up to 2008.

“It’s going to go there eventually,” O’Shea said when asked at yesterday’s launch of the Electric Ireland 2014 Minor All-Ireland championships about the possibility of professionalism. “It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, but it will eventually. We all know that. Eventually. We are not going to have 32 counties playing Gaelic football. It’s just not viable. It might be 20, 30, 40 years away but that’s the way it has to go. The way our country is set up, the way our population is, you are not going to have 32 teams.

“You will probably have franchises,” he said. “You are probably going to have to split the championship into a different structure. That’s the way it’s going to go, players will get paid eventually.”

Some teams at the moment are simply “pissing into the wind”, he added. It didn’t give him any pleasure to say it as baldly as that, he stressed, yet his case was one based not on allegiances or emotion but on stark economic and demographic realities.

O’Shea accepted that his scenario is not one that would be accepted overnight, but he made the hardly unreasonable point that amalgamations have been a fact of life at club level for years and he offered the timely example of Mount Leinster Rangers as prime evidence.

The Carlow side is an amalgam of three clubs — Rathanna, Ballymurphy and Borris. Founded in 1987, Rangers became the first Carlow side to win the Leinster Club senior hurling championship late last year and then reached the All-Ireland final last month when they fell to Galway’s Portumna.

“If you said to somebody 30 years ago, ‘if you all joined up together you can go and have a day in Croke Park’, they would laugh at you and say, ‘what are you on about?’

“You have to be realistic about the future of the game as well.”

He sees that as a future where players get paid to play. O’Shea has heard the argument that players should simply be ‘happy to wear the jersey’ and accepts that the Sky deal will mean more exposure for the top players, but his only gripe with the arrival of the British broadcasting giant is that players will again be overlooked.

O’Shea has sat at GPA meetings and listened to stories of inter-county players who don’t even receive their 50c a mile in travel expenses. He dismissed the government grants players receive on the basis that they were good for little more than “a weekend away in Dublin”.

“My view is, it’s positive,” he said of the Sky contract. “The analysis of the games will go to another level, to be honest with you. That’s what Sky do. I think RTÉ are lazy. They probably got lazy as it’s been a monopoly for them and now they are going to have to challenge themselves a bit more in their production and their analysis.”

O’Shea voiced other issues with RTÉ besides.

Like many a member of the Gaelic football community, he has long looked at what he detects to be as the split personality demonstrated when it comes to analysing the big ball and round ball codes. He offered the example of the drawn Leinster SHC tie between Wexford-Dublin which he described as a “horrible” game.

“If that was the Gaelic [football], if it was the opposite way around, ‘worst game ever seen. Jesus Christ, what are we doing? We’re hand-passing, hand-passing, hand-passing. It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.’

“We love to talk down Gaelic football whereas you’ll never see a hurling person talk down their sport. Which is great.”

* Aidan O’Shea was speaking at the launch of the 2014 Electric Ireland GAA hurling and football All-Ireland Minor championships.

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