The Rocky Road to Dublin: Shane Walsh’s GAA journey

Is Shane Walsh’s move to Dublin just a small indicator of a more widespread GAA issue?

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.

If the Premier League moves like a Porsche Caymen, then the GAA would be a Reliant Robin. Some look on at how it has come this far. Others appreciate the rare beauty of such a fanciful sight, like a child at a fireworks display.

It is peculiar to think that it indeed just serves to get you from A to B. The rest of the alphabet is out of reach, forget about long-distance, for there are no multi-millions here. 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 Kilcerrin-Clonberne to Kilmacud was an unorthodox move in an unorthodox association. 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.

Does the status as an amateur organisation hinder members? At intercounty level, the resounding answer is yes, but that is not to say the issue is an easy fix.

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.

It is these western regions that will become more isolated as time goes on. The move towards professionalism has left players and managers alike with more work to do, and more commitments, both on and off the pitch.

More players attend university than ever, and a 2022 GPA study found that 54% of student intercounty players feel “overwhelmed by their commitments”. The player expenses issue earlier this year was partially a result of a Covid-19 funding cut, but pre-pandemic in 2019, the total combined cost of catering for intercounty teams was €29.75 million.

Managerial Issues

And 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 one season, 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 overpowered that handshake, albeit only just.

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 it certainly won’t get you to Qatar. Prepare yourself for a new era of amateurism, one which paves the way for professionalism. If opportunity knocks, why not answer the door?

The traditional journey is limited in terms of its ability to propel an individual, while as a collective, the GAA is at a potentially defining crossroads. 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:

“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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