JACK MADDEN: The rocky road to Dublin

IS Shane Walsh’s move to Dublin giants Kilmacud Crokes just a small indicator of a more widespread evolution?

Every journey has a beginning and an end. In the sporting world, a journey could take you from Carraroe to Qatar. A successful career is one that navigates the road from starlet to superstar.

The winding, pothole-laden path of potential, to the autobahn of consistent excellence. That in itself is a journey.

Life in the Premier League is like a spin in a Porsche Cayman. Fast and unrelenting, with a real sense of accomplishment that you cannot even respect in the moment. There is no time for reflection at the very pinnacle.

Now swap that Porsche for a Reliant Robin. At a slower pace, you might look on and question how you have come so far. Many appreciate the rare beauty of such a fanciful sight, like a child at a fireworks display. But that novelty can wear off. Is there a purpose here? Is there a future? There aren’t even four wheels.

You falter at first. You fail before you flourish. And the GAA, like the Reliant Robin, thrives on its reputation as imperfect.

A New Era?

Shane Walsh’s move from Kilkerrin-Clonberne to Kilmacud was an unorthodox move in an unorthodox association, in so far as the world of modern sport goes at least. Magnify it down to an Irish scale, and it feels as though an individual attracting so much attention within the club game is almost unheard of.

In this county, and on this island, it was deemed more controversial than logical. For Walsh, it was a personal decision based on circumstance. For the GAA, it was a signal that the game is dipping its toes in the waters of unsustainability at intercounty level at least.

The professionalism versus amateurism debate is surely only beginning. The organisation is evolving at a rate of knots. Walsh is not the first to move away from the “one life, one club” motto. Nor will he be the last.

Back in the early noughties, Oisín McConville had a pair of white boots torn to pieces and thrown in the bin at Crossmaglen training. An act of defiance, in line with the age-old traditions of an organisation that embodies an entire country.

But that association has changed somewhat, and that country changes too. White boots are the least of your worries in a world of tattoos and man-buns, skin fades and mullets. Sure some lads are even on TikTok.

May God enlighten their souls

Location, Location, Location
With more than five times the population of any other city in the Republic, Dublin is comfortable in its status as a “primate city.” The GAA is no different to almost every other enterprise on this island, with all roads leading to the capital.

Shane Walsh made himself look at home on All-Ireland final day back in July, and now he has taken up residence in “the Big Smoke”. Lower profile players such as 2012 All-Ireland winner and ex-Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan did likewise with Ballyboden St. Enda’s in the not-so-recent past.

The move towards professionalism has left players and managers alike with more work to do, and more commitments, both on and off the pitch. Is a successful intercounty career even sustainable in rural Ireland? There is growing evidence to suggest it isn’t.

More players attend university than ever, and a 2022 GPA study found that 54 per cent of student inter-county players feel “overwhelmed by their commitments”.

Financially speaking, the game is a bubble ready to burst. The player expenses issue earlier this year was essentially blamed on Covid-19 funding cuts, but pre-pandemic in 2019, the total combined cost of catering for intercounty teams was 29.75 million euros.

That doesn’t sound very amateur. That doesn’t sound very sustainable in a growing economic crisis.

Managerial Issues
The 2022 season has seen the end of managers from Monaghan, Westmeath, Donegal, Mayo, Antrim, Longford, Limerick, and Roscommon to name but a few. The Farney County and the Lake County are among several to have appointed first-time managers in the shape of Vinny Corey and Dessie Dolan.

Antrim’s manager and ex-Tyrone player Enda McGinley walked away after two seasons, citing family and work commitments for his departure. Indeed 14 managers in all left the big ball code after the season just passed.

Brian Cody’s long goodbye after 24 years with Kilkenny was symbolic of what may be the end of longevity in the GAA. A salute farewell that followed a handshake. And in true GAA fashion, actions spoke louder than words.

Perhaps Shane Walsh’s move is the future. Life is short, but a career is shorter. The old reliable might get you to Carraroe, but will it get you to Croker? If opportunity knocks, why not answer the door?

The next decade or so poses many questions, but for now, the majority of GAA members would be satisfied to abide by the words of the great Luke Kelly, as the Reliant Robin reaches a crossroads:

“With a “lo!” and “hurray!” they joined in the affray

Quickly cleared the way for the rocky road to Dublin

One, two, three four, five

Hunt the hare and turn her down the rocky road

And all the ways to Dublin, whack, follol de-dah”.

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