Retired Cork footballer Michael Shields believes that the GAA will eventually have to embrace professionalism at some point in the future.
The 31-year old, who was captain for Cork’s most recent All-Ireland senior football final success in 2010, retired from the inter-county scene in the first week of January, citing a mixture of recent injuries as well as work and family commitments.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday Sport, Shields said the demands of the modern game were forcing earlier retirements and said some form of professionalism would have to be introduced down the line.
“If you look at the average ages of players retiring 10 years ago, it was about 35 or 36. The players I played with – Graham Canty, Nicholas Murphy – they all finished at about that age. In the last couple of years, the average age of people retiring is hitting 31 and 32.
“Definitely players are retiring a little bit earlier. Because of the demands coming in around them with family commitments and work commitments. You can’t do it all, really. I think we’re going to see a lot more players retiring at that age in the GAA around the country.
“I’m not calling for professionalism but I do see it coming down the line, especially with the demands that are out there. I’m sure Eamon and Michael (fellow panellists Zayed and Swift) from looking at the GAA from the outside, they’d be amazed at what we do.
“I do (think it’s inevitable). I really do. If we see more players retiring early, the GAA is going to have to have a think about it.”
Shields acknowledged that many feared that professionalism would herald the death of the association, particularly the sharp division that might spring up between the club and inter-county games. But he still maintains it will come into the game in some form.
“There is that question with the club players and the inter-county players. If they go playing with the inter-county, will they care about the club? I remember reading an article with Aidan O’Shea recently and he said he mightn’t see it in his lifetime.”
Speaking of his own retirement, Shields was happy he had made the right decision but did say that the Cork team he played on might have mined more All-Ireland titles in the late noughties.
“We had a great team back then. And I definitely feel that we should have won more. It wasn’t to be. But we’ve some great days as well and the good days will always outweigh the bad days.”