Travel bug has sting in the tail for sports clubs

A few years ago a GAA club official was complaining to me about another sport, and its insidious hold on his players - its pernicious influence, its seductive siren song, tempting them away from righteousness.

Travel bug has sting in the tail for sports clubs

That hold became all too obvious, he said, once they retired.

The subject of his ire was golf rather than any team sport. The official was unhappy that once players retired, they were more interested in working on their handicap at the weekend than in falling back in with the club to take a couple of teams or do some coaching.

In the interests of fairness it’s worth pointing out that he acknowledged their return to the one true faith once their own kids got to an age where they were interested in sport, though that opened up another line of thinking on participation.

Namely, if the player moved out of the club’s general catchment area, would they choose to fight the traffic and bring the kids back through the weekend shopping crowds to wear the same jersey - or opt for the convenience of the nearest club to the new home, despite betraying the heritage of decades, etc?

On such questions are Freakonomics-type books written, believe me.

Last week, though, I stumbled across another socio-economic factor having an impact on GAA club sides - to wit, the urge to travel the world among those in their late teens and early twenties.

A chat with a (different) club official spelled out the challenge: “The big thing you have to factor in now with young players is that they all have the eagerness to travel.

“They’re in college for three or four years, they might have a gap year, and as soon as they’re finished, before they go into the workforce full-time, they all seem eager to travel, and I don’t mean a couple of weeks in Spain. They want to see the world.

“You can’t blame them either. The way the championships are structured, it leads to that, but it means at the start of the year you mightn’t be sure who you’ll have later on in the season. You’ll hear rumours that this guy is going travelling, or that guy, and even if you keep the team together this year, you’ll find next year there are others who want to travel.

“Every club in the county - in the country - is having those issues. These places are affordable, and even if the young fella is a student he probably has a part-time job. At times because they’re working in supermarkets or fast food as students they can be hard to get out to matches, and they need those jobs, obviously.” What left an impression on me wasn’t that the official was raging about the kids’ selfishness; on the contrary, he acknowledged that if they’re going to college to open their minds, presumably, then the natural corollary was that they’d broaden their horizons (literally).

The generational difference was also significant; as he pointed out, in our own time travelling abroad for an extended period was a matter of emigration out of economic necessity, and was often a long-term commitment.

The modern kid has a different outlook, in particular the notion that ahead of a lifetime as a wage slave, they’re entitled to see the world.

“They have pals living all over the world,” said my man, “And they probably hear it in college all the time from other lads about travelling . . . all they need is the price of the flight, once they land there’s a buddy they can bunk in with.

Back in our day you’d have to save for a lifetime to go to Australia or somewhere but they can drop a text or two to see if they can sleep on someone’s floor for a while, and from there it’s pretty cheap to make the trip.

The age group involved is interesting, particularly given a chat I had with Jack Casey of UCC Rugby recently, where he pointed to an IRFU study which showed the majority of club players are in that 18 to 25 age group.

With so many players from that cohort likely to be in Vancouver or Sydney or Boston at any given time, spare a thought for the harassed club secretaries in all sports trying to plan their playing squads months in advance.

The White Darkness

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