Jack McCaffrey praises GAA’s community effort during Covid-19 outbreak

Dublin star admits he would be ‘hugely opposed’ to professionalism

Jack McCaffrey believes professionalism would destroy Gaelic games. Photograph:  Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Jack McCaffrey believes professionalism would destroy Gaelic games. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey has singled out praise for the GAA’s community spirit in assisting the needs of those impacted by the Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking at a Unesco chaired live discussion between NUI Galway and Penn State, with representatives from the Barça Foundation and the GAA, McCaffrey also reckoned the pandemic might change him personally in more lasting ways.

“I started playing with my club, Clontarf, back when I was probably three years, and have been pretty much immersed in sport, and GAA in particular, ever since,” he said. “Initially it would have been about introducing me to my peers, teaching me how to win well, and more often how to lose well, and then getting a healthy competitive edge.

“And on the volunteerism, there is this kind of Irish concept, historically, where when one member of the community needs something done, if they’re bringing in their crops or something in a village setting, everybody would just row in behind them, lend a hand, and make sure it gets done. And then when you needed something done, you knew that your numbers would come and help you.

“And the kind of spirit of that is something I’ve seen a huge amount of, just in the last couple of months, in Clontarf personally for me, but in pretty much every community around the country. It’s been pretty remarkable.

At the outset of the pandemic, McCaffrey, a qualified doctor, took to social media to help share the HSE message around the Covid-19 restrictions: he was also asked how the pandemic might impact on the community long term.

“I’ve only been talking about that recently, with my family and friends, about the positive things we can take from these really strange times. For example, I don’t think I will ever go out for a walk again where I don’t make eye contact with everyone I meet, say ‘hello, how are you getting on’ even if you don’t stop for a chat. And I think this pandemic and the lockdown that we’re in has given us real opportunity to reassess what we think is important.”

The subject of professionalism in the GAA in the aftermath of Covid-19 was also brought up: “I think it would destroy Gaelic football entirely, and I certainly would be hugely opposed to it. The whole beauty of the GAA is that it’s rooted in Irish history, and the Irish community, and even the Irish community abroad, where you often see it praised the most. So it’s certainly one of those special things, you play with your club, you play with you county, and there is no barrier or difference, so I think it would have an awful effect on the organisation if it was ever to come in.”

The discussion set out to explore sport’s role as a tool for good in supporting society and the development of life skills such as empathy and identity during Covid-19. Both the Barça Foundation and the GAA have been active in supporting communities during the current pandemic.

A recent survey of GAA clubs found that approximately 19,000 GAA volunteers had supported approximately 35,000 people in local communities through activities such as collection and delivery of essentials, sharing public health information and meal delivery.

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