Last weekend I watched Niamh McEvoy’s father present her with a jersey before making her AFL debut for Melbourne Demons. It was a big moment for them both and it led me to think of the lure it is to play professional sports.
The GAA is a unique organisation, it’s fuelled with pride and passion, a deep sense of community and belonging, it has a place in people’s hearts that no other sport I have seen even comes close too.
For any amateur athlete who is performing at the highest level open to them the lure of testing yourself as a professional athlete can sometimes be too big to ignore. Playing intercounty GAA is the equivalent of a full time job, with the amount of hours that is spent travelling to or from training, playing matches, recovery sessions all the while maintaining a full time job or an education can be physically and mentally draining. Imagine being able to just concentrate on getting the very best out of yourself while also being financially looked after.
Every time we hear about the new big thing in the GAA it seems that they are being offered a professional contract but the amount of pressure that is put on GAA players to remain loyal to the GAA above all else can be an emotional rollercoaster for a player. Perhaps the last comment is slightly unfair but when I think of the intercounty managers of both men’s and ladies teams complain about players moving to the AFL it makes me wonder do they have the player’s best interests at heart .
It is slightly different for men and women because the benefits being offered to a female GAA player compared to a male aren’t the same. If you are an intercounty men’s player you are generally very well looked after, the greatest demand is on their time. Was anyone going to offer Sarah Rowe, Donegal’s Yvonne Bonner (pictured) or Niamh McEvoy a new job, a car and whatever else to stay in Ireland so Mayo, Donegal or Dublin could win the All Ireland? The same can’t be said for the women players and for the Mayo manager to come out and say that anyone who plays for another team shouldn’t be allowed to play in that year’s championship was wrong. Would he say the same if it had of been camogie, basketball, soccer or any other sport?
I love to see Irish people who have been given an opportunity doing well, it’s not for everyone but for those who take the chance to move across the world to pursue a career in a sport they have never played before and succeed while doing so is something to be admired.