Rising Wexford hurling star Rory O’Connor reckons the next generation of inter-county players will be paid for their efforts.
The talented 20-year-old forward — a key figure in Davy Fitzgerald’s team — stressed he wouldn’t be interested in playing the game for money, but said that, with commitment levels now at breaking point, something has to give, particularly as he believes those demands are only going to increase.
“I’d say, when I’m retiring, there’ll be lads starting off and they’ll be on a wage, that’s the way I think it’s going, anyway,” said O’Connor.
I think it will. It can’t go any further, the levels of professionalism. If it goes any further, lads will nearly have to stop working.
"You’d be nearly catching up with college work at all hours of the night at the moment, I don’t know how other lads are doing it.
“I know a lad on the team who is doing his chartered exams, he’s working at the moment, and studying at weekends. I don’t know how he’s doing it all.”
A committee appointed by former GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl to consider what the GAA might look like in 2034, on its 150th anniversary, dealt with the pay-for-play issue. In their as-yet-unpublished report, the group recommended “a defined and agreed allowance” by 2034 to “recognise the time and effort contributed by senior inter-county players and their respective managers”.
O’Connor, a finance student, said he doesn’t know what the exact model for paying players would look like, but sees it as the most realistic way of keeping future players involved.
“If you’re not training, you’re going to the gym every night,” he said. “I’m a la carte, I’m up in DCU, so I can do whatever I want gym-wise any time of the day, but lads that are working are getting up early to go to the gym, or they’re going to work early and going to the gym in the evening time.
“We’re training maybe twice in the evenings, a match on the weekend, and you’re going to the gym twice a week as well.”
O’Connor has been part of the Wexford panel since 2017, Fitzgerald’s first season in charge.
The talented St Martin’s club man revealed how he initially presumed it was a wind-up when, studying for his Leaving Certificate, he received a text message from Fitzgerald.
“I replied back, ‘Good man Davy’, with three laughy faces,” said O’Connor. “He rang me then in class and I texted Jack, my brother, who is involved with Wexford, asking him what’s Davy Fitz’s number. The numbers matched, so that was my call up!”
O’Connor’s mood darkened, though, when he spoke about the apparent lack of respect commentators and bookmakers afford to Wexford. Fitzgerald railed at the suggestion that, with no relegation from Division 1A in the Allianz League, the competition mightn’t be as keenly contested and Wexford may see it as a chance for success.
Fitzgerald said last month:
I heard this rubbish on the fucking radio last night and it saying I’m mad to win the league; I couldn’t give a fuck, right.
The Clare man complained ahead of the 2018 season that, in terms of betting, ‘I think the only one below us for the All-Ireland is Offaly’.
Wexford have since established themselves in Division 1A of the league, though are 22/1 outsiders for this year’s All-Ireland, only above 1,000/1 shots Carlow.
“You’d read stuff. Lads would send stuff onto you showing that you are in whatever position to win the All-Ireland,” said O’Connor. “It would be, ‘You are last, you are 10th, you are ninth’.
“I saw another thing that ‘With Joe Canning out of the Leinster championship injured, who is going to take the Leinster final?’ Sure, we were nearly last in that percentage too.
“That kind of thing is absolutely driving us on. All I know is, if we can put 70 minutes together, back-to-back, it’s definitely within our reach to win a Leinster final this year.”
Rory O’Connor was speaking in Dublin at the launch of Physio Led Personal Training at Sports Physio Ireland.