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The walls of the local pub have eyes and also the Bainisteoir’s phone number

Brianna Parkins: Banning alcohol is not the answer to harmful drinking culture within GAA

Position vacant. Must be available most of the year. Actually your work year might spill over into the next year. In addition to taking up this new promotion, you must continue in your old role too. Must not like taking summer holidays with family and friends because chances are we won’t approve time off. Must have supportive partners, friends and families who understand you putting this job above all their needs and significant life events. In addition to our vigorous training sessions, you must also keep yourself physically and mentally in peak condition on your own (very little time). You will spend long hours on buses commuting to work events. You are likely to be subject to strangers critiquing your job performance in real time or on social media. “Useless” will be one of the gentler personal adjectives you might read about yourself.

The pay? Officially €0 a year so you will need to maintain a full time job on top of all this too. Oh and just out of respect and loyalty to this amazing opportunity we’ve given you, we ask that you refrain from drinking, yes even when you’re off the clock and not at work. Sound good?

While they may be held up as pillars of their community and heroes in the eyes of kids across Ireland, a job ad for intercounty GAA player wouldn’t get many takers on LinkedIn.

An Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report commissioned by the GAA in 2018 found commitments at senior intercounty can demand up to 31 (unpaid) hours a week from players. It found players compromised on sleep to juggle demands of personal and sporting life, and those players were more likely to suffer injury. Nearly half of the players over age 30 said they spent less than an hour on personal relationships on training days.


If a friend rang you telling you without context about how they joined a group of committed and like minded people but they needed to give up 30 hours for free, wear matching outfits, promise not to drink, and oh they won’t have time for personal relationships, you would google “cult deprogramming expert”. Or maybe “cult deprogramming expert, cheapest” if you were feeling mean.

Some insist going from amateur to professional would take the unique and gentle magic out of the sport. Things you don’t see in other elite level sports like star players teach in local schools, kids running on the field at the end of a game and being able to bring snacks from home into Croke Park.

Money is one thing, the drinking bans, however, are another. If we trust players to be the pride of parish and role models to our children, why don’t we trust them to have a pint during the season?

After all, this policy may be doing them harm, according to new research published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science on Monday. The study analysed survey responses from 111 intercounty players about the drinking culture including bans within the GAA.

They found “some respondents suggested that due to being unable to drink in moderation throughout the year, they over-indulge in the off season.”

“They feel that they cannot engage fully in a regular social life and subsequently overindulge when given an opportunity.”

The research concluded overall that “a harmful drinking culture exists within elite GAA” citing not just the bans but the tight relationship between alcohol and the sport overall from local pub sponsorship to the famous “See you in Coppers!” tagline.

Not all teams, however, insist on drinking bans. Last year Galway boss Padraic Joyce clarified on a podcast he had never insisted on one for his side because he didn’t need to.

These are after all athletes with “amateur” in their title but professional in their performance on the ground. Heavy drinking interferes with that.

Some drinking bans are official, others rely on a sort of Catholic-guilt style sense of you’re always being watched by someone. It is the feeling that compels us to put money in the honesty box at the water stand in Dublin Airport even though there’s nothing to stop us walking off with a bottle except the silent judgment of strangers.

We know the stories of players making sure everyone in the bar knows they’re drinking MiWadi and that they can happily drive everyone home later. The local pub is a well established rural panopticon. The walls have eyes and also the Bainisteoir’s phone number.

Single players can find it difficult to date with both venue options and available time diminished.

Fans of the sport are collectively rolling their eyes reading the research on drinking attitudes in the GAA because this is something they had already heard before. Sure former players have been warning us for years, such as Marc Ó Sé, Kieran Bergin, Lee Keegan and Noel Considine just to name a few.

Earlier this year even GAA stalwart Pat Spillane asked why can’t the organisation adopt the attitude of rugby towards trusting its players to have a few pints in the season.

When we’re looking at routinely brutalised rugby lads as exemplars of sensible and calm thinking, then maybe the GAA has a problem.