Extra Time

Opening shot – professionalism edges closer

Dublin use squad numbers

Dublin use squad numbers

By John Hughes

My eldest two girls are playing a bit of basketball this weather. I have to say, it ain’t exactly my cup of tea, but it gets them out of the house and hopefully it’ll keep them sharp for the football when it returns.

One of the novelties of this new code is the gear. There was big discussion over which squad number they’d go for on their shirts. The way it works is the club orders shirts and these come with the player number on them. This is your number for the season, so there’s a bit of craic in picking a number you think is lucky, says something about you or looks cool.

There’s a bit of psychology at play too I suppose. It also makes you feel part of the team and more invested in the club.

Those are some of the good aspects of squad numbers.

Unfortunately, when you start looking at it from the macro level things get a bit more complicated, particularly in our own beloved games.

Last year the Waterford hurlers pioneered the idea of squad numbers. There’s no specific rule saying players must be numbered from one to 15 apparently.

Dublin have picked up that ball and run with it for the O’Byrne cup, lining out in squad numbers this January.

Here’s what Dublin manager Jim Gavin had to say about the initiative.

“I think supporters accept now that the squad is so adaptable and flexible and dynamic that there are lots of changes, and that if a guy is named in a particular position, he might not be playing in that position.

“And even from a commercial perspective, for county boards, it might be something to promote the elite players in their counties.”

And there’s the rub.

Squad numbers would see GAA taking another step towards to the cult of personality which has all but ended soccer as a watchable sport.

Where you have a situation where fans are going in droves to get Kieran Donaghy’s number or Cillian O’Connor’s number or Michael Murphy’s number on the back of their jersey, then the obvious question is what is in it for the player? Surely the player has to get a kickback for that extra sales push which is demonstrably down to their own personal pulling power?

From that point it is just a matter of time before players begin to put the financial considerations associated name and identity rights on a par with or ahead of those of the team. This is how it has worked in soccer, it’s how it will work in GAA.

To a certain extent, it is every man for himself on any GAA team. That’s the nature of any competitive sport. There is always someone looking for your place, so there is a certain incentive to put the self before the collective.

However, with commercial revenue at stake, the spur to put your own interests ahead of those of the team go into overdrive.

This is just one issue though. Squad numbers are just another part of the ongoing drive to take the GAA into professionalism.

The key central tenet of that drive is to sell to the GAA public the idea that it is our top level players who are somehow keeping the game alive. They want us to believe that without the ‘elite’ players the GAA would evaporate.

But that is not what the GAA is about and this is something that the GPA and certain people in Croke Park really struggle to understand.

It is an Association with a world view which prioritises the value of the community, volunteerism and the collective well-being. The games aren’t just games, they are an expression of that specific outlook.

Privileging the few at the expense of the many is the scourge of the modern world. Commentators in the economic sphere can readily recognise how destructive that poisonous skewing of value is for the wider community and call it for what it is.

Many pundits speaking about the GAA seem incapable of joining the dots on this one.

The thing that elevates the GAA above other codes, the reason why it commands such indefatigable support is its points of difference.

The GAA stands as a shining testament that there is a different way of doing things. A way which can be wildly successful, not just for the few, but the many.

If you are like the GPA or are a certain kind of Croke Park top brass and stand to make a huge killing out of a soccer-style GAA, then of course squad numbers are the way to go.

Reckless money-crazed planning left us with housing estates on flood plains getting drowned this past month. That is what happens when the vested interests of the few are allowed to run roughshod over those of the many.

GAA can go the way of soccer and enrich the few at the expense of the many, surely.But never forget, that can only happen if we let it happen.

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