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Ireland's gaelic football final: playing for glory, but not a paycheck

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"I'm ecstatic. I can't wait," says Jordan Cunningham, a fan from the village of Glencolumbkille in County Donegal with tickets to the final.

Mr. Cunningham is a student at Dublin City University and, like many gaelic football fans, plays the sport himself. "At the minute it's all work, so I miss a lot of training but if the opportunity to play for the county came up, I'd grab it with both hands."

Love of the game runs in the family. His father, Martin, is equally enthusiastic. "I've followed football since I was a child, and played it since I was 12," he says. "It's unbelievable Donegal making it to the final. It's lifted everyone so much," he says.

Amateur hour?

Controversial but popular Irish broadcaster and sports pundit George Hook questions whether the GAA sports can truly be considered amateur, however, noting paid coaches and sponsorship deals for players.

"It's not strictly speaking amateur. It's been an open secret that they've been paying the managers a lot of money. Then you've the GPA [Gaelic Players' Association] – why do you need a trade union if it's an amateur sport?" It's only truly amateur at the lower level, says Mr. Hook, a noted rugby fan and former coach to the US national rugby team.

But the Gaelic Players' Association, founded in 1999 to give voice to players, says there is no desire for the game to go any more professional than it is now.

"When we got down to asking what the players what they wanted, they didn't want full professionalism," says the GPA's Sean Potts. "They wanted recognition and support: career development, [college] scholarships and so on."

In fact, Mr. Potts says, professionalism simply couldn't work in a country with a population of just six million and a team in each of the 32 counties: "There are 2,500 county players and each is entitled to support through the Player Development Program. If it was professional, the wages would be so small [that] you'd be doing the players a disservice."

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