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What the GAA can learn from rugby players and their 'dual careers'

Former Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack says life off the field is as important as life on it.

Donal Óg would like to follow rugby's example in New Zealand
Donal Óg would like to follow rugby's example in New Zealand
Image: Web Summit

AFTER DISAGREEING THAT professionalism is inevitable in the GAA, former Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack has said that the organisation must instead look at guiding players in their careers off the field.

The GPA chairman, who was speaking at a discussion on ‘Amateur Ethos in a Professional Game’ at the 2014 Web Summit yesterday in the RDS, said that having a career outside of sport is not only good for players, but for the community around them.

“I think there’s a huge benefit to the association for that in that if players are watching the dual career model, they’ll go back in to their communities, back in to their clubs, stronger, more rounded people.

“That’s good for the association and I’d suggest good for the country as well.”

And instead of focusing on the pay that comes with professionalism, players should instead concentrate on the ethos that makes elite athletes as good as they are.

“It’s a mindset. We often spoke about this when I was playing for Cork and we were at the highest. It was mindset that we were interested in even though we operated in a unique situation.

“I’ll give you an example after the Munster final in 2006. The Monday morning after the game, I’d taken a decision that year, it was going to be an alcohol free year.

“After the game the next morning, I was in work inside in a meeting and the guy I reported in to was missing and his secretary, when asked why he was missing, she said he’d taken a day off because the Munster final had been the day before.

“You do operate in a unique setting but professionalism to me was a mindset.”

Cusack’s work with the GPA has allowed him meet with other player organisations and one in particular impressed the 37-year old, even though they deal with some professional players.

“I even think you’ll see in professional sport over the coming years is that, that model I speak about where we want our players to be concentrating on their well-being, their personal lives, their career.

“I think within professional sport, you’re going to see more and more of that. The Gaelic Players’ Association sit on a world players body representing the amateur groups. It’s a great forum for us to learn and benchmark.

“One of the most impressive groups we’ve seen was a New Zealand rugby players association.

“They’ve really grasped that importance of the players off the field what they’re doing and they’re gathering very interesting data around the players, who’ve got the other part of their lives under control are actually performing better on the field as well.”

Donal Óg disagrees that GAA is on the way to turning professional

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Steve O'Rourke

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