The Military Army Blog

McElroy: British army treated with more respect than Masters

FORMER Tyrone and Carrickmore footballer Gavan McElroy has found a certain, unfortunate irony in the decision to allow a regiment of the British army to compete as a GAA club. The application for recognition by the GAA in London was made by the Irish Guards regiment and the new club, to be known as, Garda Eireannach, will compete in the Junior championship in the English capital. For McElroy, however, the continuing situation whereby the GAA refuses to recognise over 40s Masters football in Ireland casts this decision in a very poor light.

Do those who sanctioned this see no irony in allowing the Irish Guards to take part in Gaelic games whilst, at the same time, not affording all Irish citizens the same right? asked McElroy, who has played for the over-40s for a number of years.

The GAA have, for some years now, refused to be associated with the Gaelic Masters competition, which sees players aged 40 and over represent their county in an All-Ireland competition. As the 45-year-old explained, a decision was taken by Congress some years back to cut ties with the over 40s, a state of affairs which led to the formation of an entirely separate organisation, the Gaelic Masters Association. Under its auspices, Galway won the All-Ireland Gaelic Masters Cup this year, with Tyrone winning the Masters Shield.

McElroy, who won five O Neill Cup medals in a stellar career with Carrickmore and is currently joint manager of the senior team, explained the men who play for their counties at Masters level are not seeking to be treated any differently from other GAA members, but merely to be treated on a similar basis.

I would just like to see the GAA bringing the Masters back under their wing again. We want equality basically we are not looking for any special treatment as such, he stressed.

It s the only case in the world where you aren t rewarded for being there a long time. In rugby those boys play for thirds and fourths and fifths teams and in handball as well they play the Masters.

A lot of people may see these two issues as being unrelated but, to me, it s about the contrast between the ease with which [the London decision] was granted, whereas the Masters is becoming a fight for men who [were] involved in the GAA and still are with committees, with refereeing, playing and coaching. One of the apparent reason given by the Irish Guards for wanting to play Gaelic football is that they are keen to take part in a strong, physical game that would suit them . Here too, the irony is not lost on McElroy.

Gaelic football is, indeed, the type of game they speak of and I wish them luck in becoming exponents of these very necessary qualities of the game, said McElroy.

However, I am again at a loss because one of the reasons given by the GAA to justify cutting its ties with Masters football was the sometimes physical nature of the games. Of course, like all GAA games, there will be an odd dispute, but the Masters are nowhere near as physical as senior football in Tyrone, for example. Not a chance the pace is well reduced. It will also be interesting to see if any of the Irish Guards who line out are over 40. As far as the Carrickmore teacher is concerned, the crucial reason for the GAA placing the over 40 men outside the GAA tent is, quite simply, financial.

It s money… When we go to the Masters now at the first training session we fill out an insurance form and we pay our insurance to the person in charge of Tyrone and it goes to the GAA Masters Association. Any county involved now will be paying their own insurance, he added.

Therefore, what we have now are players who have played club and county football for their whole lives [now] paying their own insurance to play Gaelic football. The GAA, therefore, have effectively banned men who are currently players, officers of their clubs, committee members, team managers, coaches and referees.”

Speaking in response to McElroy’s comments, Alan Milton, the GAA’s head of media relations, said there was a very strong rationale behind the decision to sever its ties with the Masters competition.

I m not going to get sucked into a Q and A with Gavin, but what I will say is that the official recognition of the Masters was discontinued for a very valid reason that was because of the high level of injuries and the robust nature of the games, which weren t in the spirit of the original Masters competition,” Milton said.

That position was taken by the GAA and all counties would have been party to that decision. It s not a decision taken by Croke Park on its own that would ve been run across management at central council.

While he understood McElroy’s frustration, Milton also said “no correlation” could be made between the GAA distancing itself from the Masters and last week’s historic decision to allow the Irish Guards to compete in next year’s junior championship in London.

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