Poll: Should intercounty GAA players be paid to play?
It's the age old question - what would happen if the GAA decided to pay their players to play?
Would Irish society suddenly hurtle off the side of a cliff? Would the hearts and the bedrocks of communities be ripped out and replaced by 'those foreign sports'? What would a Dublin football player make in comparison to a player from Leitrim? Would the league be abolished in favour of a professional club championship?
For decades these types of questions have been asked on bar stools as opposed to boardrooms, but The Irish Times recently published some findings from the leaked ‘Towards 2034′ report where it suggested that the traditional expenses system for GAA players is no longer fit for purpose.
The leaked report, which stems from a committee established by former GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail, apparently recommends that the payment of an allowance to players be granted, and that players and managers will retain their existing amateur status, but have their value to the Association, and their enormous commitment to their sport, recognised by a defined and agreed allowance.
It regurgitates the philosophical debate that do GAA players play hurling and football for the love of their sport, their county and their parish? Or is passion and glory enough of a payment to justify all the driving, the training, the drinking bans and the sacrifice that comes with playing intercounty football and hurling?
There's a belief out there that money will make GAA players greedy, less passionate, and worst of all, like their counterparts in 'soccer'. God forbid.
2016 Hurler of the Year Austin Gleeson is a subscriber to the theory.
“I don’t think at all it should happen,” he said at the launch of the Go Games Provincial Days in partnership with Littlewoods Ireland. Irony is well and truly still alive.
“The reason everyone loves hurling is it’s amateurs playing an amateur sport. Everyone after waking up Monday morning going into work after playing 70 minutes of a championship game the day before.
"It would take away from the love of the game. If you’re getting paid, you could go training and wander around because ‘it doesn’t matter, I’m getting paid anyway’. I don’t think it should come in. Every team gets their expenses.
“There are (Waterford) lads up in Dublin who get their expenses and everything is put in place food-wise after training. They get their championship gear, you get free physio if you need it. There are doctors there if you need doctors so there are always little allowances there for you.
“Look at the way soccer has gone – there are players sitting on benches now going just because the money is there. They don’t really care if they play or not. I don’t think that’s the way the GAA would go; I just think it would take away from the love of the game if you ended up getting paid.”
Gleeson makes a lot of valid points and if you have expenses, physio, food and doctors in place, do you really need much more?
Gleeson and many others will want the GAA to avoid professionalism but other players aren't waiting around for the GAA to decide whether they will pay their players or not, they are taking the initiative into their own hands.
Lee Chin is the most high profile example.
The Wexford forward proudly states that he's unemployed and that he's happy playing for The Yellowbellies without gainful employment, and in some respect, what's to stop him?
He may not receive his income directly from Wexford GAA but a couple of minutes scrolling through his social media accounts and you'll find him promoting a variety of products from Fulfil Nutrition, CARPE OMNIA clothing, eir Sport, AIB and their #TheToughest series, Fitness Food HQ, iPro Sport, Mibodi, Benetti, Centra, John West, Mazda, RTE and Ireland's Fittest Family, Little Dragon Supplements, instantspeedtraining and whatever else you can find as you trawl your way through a sea of advertising.
Lee Chin has essentially subverted the GAA's amateur status by building his brand, largely through his performances on the pitch. Katie Taylor is the poster girl for the cause after her firm KT Sports Ltd's profits soared to €1.203m long before she ever stepped foot in a professional boxing ring.
Of course, Chin and Taylor are the exceptions. The centre-half-back for Laois and the full-back for Carlow do not enjoy the same profile. If they do, let me know.
Taylor may have generated €1.203m before the Rio Olympics, but after the Games, the reality set in for the rest of the boxers on the Irish team as silver medalist Joe Ward was the only fighter to receive the 'podium' level grant from Sport Ireland. He received €40,000.
The ability to bypass amateurism is only afforded to a select few, whereas the GAA, as we have heard so often, should aim to cater for the masses more than the exceptional few.
What came first - the chicken or the egg?
What will come first - the GAA paying their players or multiple players circumventing the entire process through Instagram, Twitter or whatever event a sponsor will pay them to promote?
Chin has shown that you can play at intercounty level without a job, while former Footballer of the Year Bernard Brogan was at one stage estimated to be able to garner as much as €100,000 in sponsorship in a good year, according to one sports agent in 2015.
Throw in Sky Sports, testimonial dinners, the Super 8's, an All-Ireland hurling championship revamp and we're more than halfway to the races of a professional sport.
But the question then is - is it too late to turn the car around?
Former All-Ireland winner Joe Brolly was writing about the issue of professionalism invading the GAA on a near weekly basis with the Sunday Independent last year.
Brolly may reminisce about an era where players can skull pints in peace after matches and where GAA Presidents are struck full in the face with roast chickens at Sigerson Cup banquets, but maybe that time has passed.
New GAA President John Horan has bigger issues on his plate than dodging airborne roast chickens, but if we're already at a stage where there's subscription television packages, professional brand ambassadors, more intercounty games than ever, more reach and exposure for players than ever, who's to pull the handbrake as the car gets closer and closer to crossing the professional bridge?
Towards 2034. Do you bother to stop and take a look back or is it full steam ahead?