Should The GAA Cut All Ties With The Aussie Rules Game?

The relationship between the GAA and the AFL has come in for some close scrutiny in recent weeks following the announcement of one of Gaelic football’s most talented players heading Down Under for trials.

Cathal McShane lit up the National League and Championship for Tyrone in 2019.

His performances earning him a wholly deserved All Star.

He amassed 3-48 in Tyrone’s journey to the All-Ireland semi-finals with nobody able to keep the full forward under wraps in any game.

It was to be McShane’s standout year in a Red Hand jersey, and it did not go unnoticed.

It has led to 24 year old heading out for trials with the Brisbane Lions, a team which already has Dubliner James Madden on their books.

The decision of McShane to travel to Australia to see if he can forge out a career as a professional athlete has raised the question as to whether the GAA should let the AFL poach their most talented players.

McShane’s manager Mickey Harte criticised the scouting of Irish players by AFL scouts.

Harte says he believed the best option for McShane would be to remain in Ireland and continue playing for Tyrone.

Some may see this as a tad selfish on Harte’s part.

McShane has the opportunity to make money playing a professional sport, experience a new culture and country.

Yes, it is to the detriment of Tyrone and the GAA in general, but could you really blame anybody who would choose this if they had the opportunity?

There have been more failed attempts than successful attempts by Irish players to succeed in the AFL. 

Tadgh Kennelly, Martin Clarke, Zach Tuohy and Conor McKenna are some of the more successful names who have made the transition to the AFL and have been quite successful. 

But there have been plenty who have had trials or went over for a few years and the dreams failed to materialise.

A sporting career is a short time, so you have to make the most of it and take every opportunity that presents itself.

There is a question about what the GAA gets out of all this. 

The “poaching” of the best young players in Ireland by the AFL can be seen as wrong, but if the GAA are not doing anything to keep them on these green shores then there is nothing to be done to stopping them heading for Australia if a professional contract is offered to them.

The scouts for the AFL will continue to be a challenge for the GAA if the powers that be do nothing to stop the tide.

It is not a massive tide. In 2020 there will be 17 Irish players in the AFL. Not a massive number but when it is 17 of your top talents, it is a massive loss for the spectacle of the GAA, when you want to see the best players lining out for their counties.

The AFL Combine which was held in Dublin in December 2019 may possibly lead to that number increasing.

Being an amateur organisation the GAA has no real hold on players apart from their love of the game. They cannot offer them any financial incentive or contract that would match what players could make in Oz.

The other part of the relationship between the GAA and AFL is the International Rules.

The International Rules games between Ireland and Australia should be scrapped. They no longer bring the excitement and entertainment they used to.

The AFL do not seem interested in sending their best players and without the big-name players representing their countries, public interest will be limited.

If there were to be a cutting of ties between the GAA and AFL would it make much of a difference to the scouting of Irish players?

Probably not.

The AFL would probably continue to scout players.

What the GAA need to do is look at how they can show players that their future is better in Ireland. 

Kerry produced a booklet entitled “Stay and play in Kerry” to keep young players playing and living in the county. 

If more counties could do the same, you might see the number of players going for trials or signing contracts fall. 

But as well as keeping players away from the AFL it would help keep participation levels up. 

The AFL is not the only thing that takes players away from the GAA. 

The onus is on the GAA to provide a better alternative for these players who have had their heads turned. 

Would cutting ties with the AFL help? 

Again, probably not.

It needs to go further than that. 

They need to show players that Gaelic football or hurling is the best sport in the world, better than Aussie Rules and what they can achieve in Ireland is far more than what they can achieve in Australia.


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