MICKEY Harte’s recent BBC interview on the topic of Cathal McShane’s impending departure to the AFL made for fascinating viewing.
Mickey’s current premiership of Tyrone’s senior football team has lasted for 17 years, making him the longest serving county manager of the modern era.
Despite incessant (and now more vocal) calls for Harte to stand aside to be replaced by one of a plethora of able coaches within Tyrone, he remains in situ.
The country-wide reaction to Mc- Shane’s decision to dip his toe in the professional game of Aussie Rules Football, and Harte’s response in particular, has been illuminating.
Understandably, no manager wants to be without their star player at the beginning of any season, but there is also a bigger picture to be considered.
Prominent backers of Tyrone GAA, so exercised about McShane’s potential departure, apparently proposed an offer to be put to the player.
This in itself is a potentially explosive development in the saga as well as being further evidence of the incentivisation of certain players in the amateur world of the GAA.
Word is the offer never made it to McShane.
If there were any truth in that would it have turned the tide? Who knows, but it certainly is an interesting development in a story that has generated many recent headlines.
An outspoken critic of the AFL/GAA relationship, Harte referred to his opinion that, “It’s a bit sad that that used to be the job of some unknown scouts from Australia, but now it’s ex-GAA people in Ireland who are scouting our players to take them away to another league, which is no benefit to us whatsoever.” This comment should be premised on the fact that Mickey has made a career out of managing amateur GAA players, so to berate ex-players who wish to commercialise their contacts within both the GAA and AFL reeks of hypocrisy.
In the same interview, he went on to say of McShane that, “I gave him my views on what I thought in my heart and soul would be best for his career, both on and off the field, and the very simple answer was that I thought it would be best served by being here.”
Questions have been posed this week about whether McShane is right to go. Has the GAA, through its relationship with the AFL, invited the fox into the hen house?
Will there be an avalanche of GAA talent boarding the next plain to Tasmania?
These questions have produced many column inches, but as part of that debate, very little consideration has been given to whether McShane will actually make it or not.
He has secured a pre-season trial with AFL club the Adelaide Crows, but at 24 he is late to the party and he is about to become a small fish in a rather large pond where success stories are few and far between, though he can look to his former Tyrone minor teammate Conor McKenna for inspiration.
The Eglish Phenom has been tearing it up for Essendon over the past number of years. That being said, there are no guarantees for the Owen Roe O’Neill’s clubman but he should absolutely be afforded the opportunity to at least try to succeed, and pressure should not be applied from those within Tyrone GAA to dissuade him of that opportunity. Ultimately, if he is successful, the qualified teacher could set himself and his family up for life.
The scaremongering about the AFL poaching talent and the magnitude of the issue has been completely overblown. If you are good enough and want to try your hand at being a professional sportsman or woman who actually gets paid, as opposed to being a professional sportsman or woman in Ireland who does it for free, then good luck to you. Worst case is that after a couple of years of sun on your back, you come home a better athlete.
When considering the stats around the issue, Paul Earley went to Melbourne in 1983 and since then players from upwards of 22 counties has left these shores to try their hand at the oval ball. In 2018, there were only 12 Irish players in the AFL system, and in 2017 it struck a record high of 13 – on average, one player has been recruited per year since 1983, hardly an en-masse exodus.
What is also interesting is that 10 GAA players in the past 36 years have returned to Ireland from the AFL and subsequently won at least one All Star.
To lambast the AFL or players who want to grasp an opportunity to set themselves up for life is laughable.
We all enjoy the freedom to decide our own destiny; fortunately for Mc- Shane, those freedoms even extend to the good people of Tyrone.