Keeping Kerry’s most talented young players at home and preventing further footballers from signing AFL contracts represents a “huge challenge” for the county board, according to chairman Tim Murphy.
Stefan Okunbor, who was full-back for the Kerry U20 footballers this year and an All-Ireland minor winner in 2016, joined AFL club Geelong in October on a two-year rookie contract, the club which lured 2015 All-Ireland minor winning captain Mark O’Connor away from Kerry football in 2016.
Currently, there is an all-time high of 14 Irish players contracted to AFL clubs. Murphy, in his chairman’s address at last night’s Kerry convention in Tralee, told delegates that “a voluntary organisation such as the GAA simply cannot compete with professional sport”.
That as it may be, the Kerry County Board, since the beginning of this year, has been attempting to put structures in place to ensure the option of remaining at home is an attractive one for players. Early in 2018, the county board established a strategic employment task force with the objective of identifying and increasing employment opportunities for club and county players within Kerry. The committee, under the chairmanship of Diarmuid Ó Sé, has been working with various employers and IT Tralee to encourage players to “stay, play, and work in Kerry”.
“The AFL and their scouts continue to be a challenge not only for us here in Kerry, but for the GAA as a whole,” said county board chairman Tim Murphy.
“The committee specifically dealing with this issue will continue in their endeavours to ensure that all other players considering a move are given the benefit of choosing an attractive alternative to remain here at home. Diarmuid O’ Sé and his task force deserve special mention in publishing the booklet ‘Stay, Play, and Work in Kerry’.
“The lure of professional sport will continue to be a huge challenge for us.”
With county board secretary Peter Twiss lamenting the contempt for match officials in his report, this was an issue also tackled by Murphy.
“The one constant issue that keeps arising is the difficulty faced by referees during underage matches, particularly at U12 level. The verbal actions of some spectators and team officials at these games have no place in the GAA and urgent action is needed to address this.
“Our children’s officer, Bernie Reen, continues in her efforts to upskill and educate people in all aspects of child welfare. It is hoped that a number of pilot projects such as the ‘Silent Sideline’ will be introduced at underage matches in the coming year.”
Pat Sheehy, referees committee administrator, said one young ref, after taking charge of just two games, quit, having been “highly abused” by a parent. He also highlighted how referees in the county were being criticised on social media. Discipline during games, Sheehy added, was a growing problem.
“One belt of a fist can do untold damage. I would ask everyone here to go back to their clubs and mentors and make them be responsible for their actions and, hopefully, their actions won’t lead to something serious down the road,” Sheehy remarked.
At last night’s convention, delegates were informed by referee tutor Maurice Sullivan that Kerry was “heading in a crisis direction” with regard to a growing shortage of referees and the low percentage of young people willing to take up the whistle.
Tom Keane, brother of Kerry senior football manager Peter, was appointed the new treasurer of the county board, defeating Aileen Stack (Moyvane) by 152 votes to 86.