Goalkeeping great Seamus Durack fears GAA ethos destroyed

His 23-year-old son routinely tells him he’s old-fashioned but Seamus Durack has never left the coalface of hurling these last 50 years. Be it senior or under-age teams (this year he completed a two-season stint with his own Éire Óg seniors in Ennis), he has made sure to remain relevant.

Goalkeeping great Seamus Durack fears GAA ethos destroyed

But having played in a era he describes as “mostly serious but always enjoyable”, what he sees going on now in the GAA he determines as contradicting what the association meant to him and those before.

“I am delighted I played hurling in a free-for-all time,” he says. “Where winning wasn’t absolutely everything. They were happier times for the GAA.”

The club, the so-called cornerstone of the association, is suffering more than people imagine, he stresses. “Most clubs with talented young players find themselves as mere feeders or part of a conveyor system for the inter-county panels. A major disadvantage to those clubs who have nurtured the players from an early age is seeing them used and many of them discarded all for the lure of the county jersey.

“A lot of these young players are generally well supported and encouraged by their parents, although many of those parents would have little or no understanding of the pressure put on their children both mental and physical at such a young age.

“Sometimes reckless team managers will have no respect for the players from where they are coming from.

“The pressure clubs are under then when they get back their star players is huge. They’re generally drained from all the training and they’re sort of ghosts on the team for a period of time before they’re fully adjusted. They’re drained and tired and I’m speaking specifically about younger players.

“It’s a personal belief but that wasn’t the concept of the people who founded the GAA in 1884. I don’t think that was their mantra. They built it on the basis of people enjoying themselves playing native sports.

“It wasn’t about it being so win-orientated, which is now the big problem. The people who are supporting and encouraging that and getting expenses to assist that system is part of the whole detriment of the scenario. It’s now moved onto a different level and a chronic situation for the GAA.”

Durack is opposed to hurling’s recently-launched Celtic Challenge for 16 and 17-year-olds across the 32 counties, which will put more fixture pressure on teenagers. “It’s only adding to the fire that has already been lit in terms of the glut of fixtures and the demands on younger players. The danger is when they get to 23, 24 or 25, it no longer a case of being tired but resigned and they’ll stop playing or even contributing to the club that has encouraged and nurtured them.”

Dragging players from pillar to post is even more precarious nowadays when young adults are not as resilient as they were before, claims Durack. “Young players are now very vulnerable. They may have a softer centre than we had in our era. They have to be handled more carefully now, not just physically but mentally too.

“I spoke to (former Republic of Ireland manager) Eoin Hand who is part of a group within the Irish soccer set-up that help repatriate players who have gone over to England with this wonderful hope of playing with Leeds and Manchester United and by 18 or 19 years of age they’re deemed as failures. There is a major problem for those men coming back to a system in Ireland where they’re regarded as not having been good enough.

“The same situation exists in Gaelic games where fellas are dropped off minor and U21 panels and they feel they’re a failure. That can be psychologically so damaging to players.”

The black and white attitude adopted to Gaelic games is something Durack rails against. The thoughts of players ending up on a scrapheap because they were deemed no good and not being able to deal with that rejection gnaw at him.

“It’s an educational thing. By that I mean the GAA will seriously have to look at asking coaches and individuals that were past inter-county players and good co-ordinators to go into clubs and lay out the potential pitfalls for these talented players and their parents, what’s required and how to cope with disappointment and failure.

“It’s the parents who really have to sit up and take notice because due diligence is something they should be doing when their children are at the heart of the matter.

“The people who come into chat to these men and women must be people they know from playing and respect. I have spent time going to the parents of talented players, sat down with them and explained to them that ‘this may happen’ and they’ve got to protect their sons and daughters from this frenzy of team managers with their own agendas and who don’t look at the bigger environment.

“Gaelic games has become about the elite. The emphasis has changed so much in favour of the county structure. You don’t see crowds going to club games because they’re played at the wrong time of the year. The best months are kept for the county teams. You’re seeing the same hardcore elite few from U16 up to senior making. The rest are seen as average players who to win a county championship are relying on getting their county players, who by the time they’re finished with the county are like spent salmon and have nothing to offer for the club, not because they don’t want to but because they can’t.”

“I don’t have all the answers but I’ve seen enough players think the worst of themselves because managers made them feel that way. Something has to be done and quickly.”

If that makes him old-fashioned then call him an old codger. Durack isn’t the type to cry wolf.

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