The GAA should consider playing soccer

10th March 2000

You’ve probably concluded from the headline that I have completely lost my marbles. How could the Tom and Jerry of Irish sport be expected to co-habit?

Let me declare my interest. I am a member of the GAA and I want Gaelic games to continue to be as widespread as possible in our society.

In the past 20 or 30 years a lot has changed in the GAA and the GAA has shown itself to be as adaptable as any organisation in Ireland, despite its conservative reputation.

It started with the dropping of the ban on ‘foreign’ games. Then came metricifcation. Sponsorship was embraced. Radical rule changes to football followed the International Rules series. The sacred provincial system was modified in hurling.

In recent years, the shirts have gotten trendier, the crowds have gotten massive and there’s weekly live broadcast coverage.

Women’s football is reputed to be the biggest growing sport in Ireland and the new Football Development Committee (FDC) proposals are arguably the most radical changes ever mooted in any Irish sport.

So everything is rosy in the garden, then? No, not at all.

Anecdotal evidence and an increasing number of studies shows that the future of the GAA is in danger. Many traditional GAA schools are turning to soccer and in urban areas the impact of GAA championships is becoming less and less.

In some ways these changes are welcome. For too long young people across Ireland had few options in organised sports. There has been a tremendous expansion in choice from canoeing to basketball, from snooker to swimming. As a consequence there has been a natural and appropriate decline in the GAA’s ‘market share’.

But that’s not all. There has been a commensurate and perhaps accelerated decline in the GAA’s public profile. A study a few years ago in a school in west Dublin showed that the majority of children couldn’t name a player on the Dublin team.

It is very unlikely that these children would have similar problems with Man U players.

I don’t want to over-generalise but a big end of children’s experience is now based on TV and computers.

The GAA has very foolishly ignored the crying need for computer games based on gaelic sports and on TV there’s wall to wall soccer.

The fact is that the GAA will never compete with the media profile of soccer and will eventually have to accommodate itself to living with this fact. And what’s the big problem?

GAA clubs use golf classics, race nights and greyhound racing to raise money. I don’t know any GAA player who doesn’t play soccer.

There are thousands of young people across this city, boys and girls, who are inspired by their TV experiences to play soccer.

It would be a shame if these young people were to be denied the chance of trying out Gaelic football and hurling because the GAA was too inflexible to not provide them with a game of soccer along the way.

I don’t know what form this might take but a thaw in the relations with the FAI would be a big help. Everyone in Irish sport has a duty to co-operate to provide young people with sporting opportunities.