Pat Spillane: Why can’t GAA players have a few pints and a bit of craic?

Image of Andy Farrell and Caelan Doris celebrating with a Guinness in stark contrast to monk-like regime of our stars

Caelan Doris, tackled by Paul Willemse, left, and Uini Atonio, was man of the match for Ireland against France. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat Spillane playing for Sligo, where there is great work being done at under-age level. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Rob Herring had to leave the field following a head injury against France. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

30 January 2022; Pat Spillane of Sligo in action against Paidi Hughes of Wexford during the Allianz Football League Division 4 match between Wexford and Sligo at Chadwicks Wexford Park in Wexford. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

The picture of Man of the Match Caelan Doris and coach Andy Farrell celebrating Ireland’s magnificent rugby win over France last weekend with two creamy pints was my moment from last weekend’s packed programme of global sport.

And, trust me, I watched everything from Limerick v Clare to the Phoenix Open.

The photograph encapsulated what sport – even at professional level – ought to be about.

Once the game is over the players should be allowed celebrate and have a bit of craic. What is the point of it otherwise.

Doris can thank his lucky stars he is not a county footballer or hurler.

The majority of inter-county players are obliged to stop drinking on January 1st, and this ban will not be relaxed by the team management until they exit the Championship.

Imagine the outcry on social media if a top GAA player and his manager were pictured with pints in their hands two weeks before a big Championship game.

Nobody bats an eyelid when it happens in other sports, and rightly so. Thankfully, our rugby internationals can have a life.

Meanwhile, the GAA’s elite players are obliged to adopt a lifestyle which would do justice to an enclosed order of monks.

But, in terms of the bigger picture, rugby is in serious bother and – to misquote Shakespeare – there is ‘something rotten in the state of the game.’

Rugby is a very dangerous game to play because the number of head-high tackles is still unacceptably large.

Pray tell me, in what other field game would it be acceptable for three or four players to leave the field during a game to undergo Head Injury Assessment tests.

More often than not, at least half are deemed unfit to return.

But what happened last Saturday week in Dublin was beyond belief.

As a referee, Wayne Barnes likes to be the centre of attention. We have a few officials like that in the GAA as well.

Anyway, he somehow decided not to red-card the French prop Uini Atonio for a shocking and dangerous challenge on Rob Herring.

It was an awful decision; made worse by the fact the referee was able to watch several replays of it.

No wonder so many parents will not allow their kids play rugby.

Ireland's Rob Herring had to leave the field following a head injury against France. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Last weekend I promised to try to be more positive in my comments on the GAA. So, here are three feel-good stories to set the ball rolling.

Two Kerry clubs, Valentia Young Islanders and Tuosist, will be back fielding teams in adult football competitions this year.

Valentia, home of the great Mick O’Connell, have been unable to field an adult team for the past two years.

Last season some of the players lined out with Dromid Pearses. But this season they are back in action in the Kerry County League.

Meanwhile, Tuosist – a club situated across the bay from where I live – fielded a team on only a couple of occasions last year.

This season they are committed to fielding a team in the county league.

Better still, they have announced plans for a new €1m pitch development, which augurs well for the future.

Due to family connections I have developed a close relationship with Sligo in recent years – and it is a county I’ve grown to love.

It has a population of just over 69,000 – only five counties have fewer residents.

It has only 26 GAA clubs – only Longford with 24 have fewer

Last week in the Sunday World, my colleague Sean McGoldrick detailed the massive inequalities in how the GAA has distributed their Coaching and Games Development grants over the last 15 years.

Whereas Dublin topped the list, receiving nearly €22m, the smaller counties with less resources were mostly near the bottom.

Sligo, for example, are in the bottom five and have received just over €1 million since 2007.

It would be very easy for small counties and clubs to give up, and blame inequality for all their woes.

Sligo did the opposite and put a huge amount of work and resources into under-age coaching. Now they are starting to reap the dividends.

In 2021 they won the Connacht U-17 title, and last year they took the U-20 title for the first time.

There was more success last weekend when the Sligo schools, Summerhill College and St Attracta’s Community School, Tubbercurry won the Connacht Colleges A and B football titles respectively. So, the future looks promising for Sligo football.

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