Professionalism is not just about money

As many winter sports come to a close, some will be celebrating a season of success, others regretting lost opportunities, but many more will be satisfied if they did their best.

Through both triumphs and tribulations, they may have pushed past barriers, both physical and mental, been empowered by the energy of fans as they have energised a community, and contributed to a culture that will ensure they head into next season with hope and confidence.

Last weekend the first women's soccer team to represent the city concluded its first National League campaign. Galway WFC may not have won any titles this year, but they are providing a rich example to a new generation of soccer sisters and will continue to do so next season.

Across town Connacht Rugby will play its final home match of the season at the Sportground on Saturday evening, and it will be a particularly  emotional time for some players  - none more so than Gavin Duffy who, like Eric Elwood before him, has epitomised all that is good about Connacht Rugby. A vital cog in Connacht's wheel for so many years, Duffy has enjoyed his share of success - and deserved more -  but throughout this time with the province, his loyalty, dedication, integrity, leadership, and unquestionable professionalism never wavered.  

Another in the twilight of his career, but remaining with the province for another year, is Connacht's adopted son Michael Swift.  The talismanic London-born player represents an elite breed of Connacht players who have passed the 200 cap mark. Hailed by current coach Pat Lam for his inspirational work ethic, passion and commitment to Connacht Rugby, Swift is another consummate professional.

For many seasons both players have inspired Connacht supporters who may have felt it extremely difficult at times to root for a team always on a losing streak.  Contrast that with England’s Saracens and France’s Toulon - the latter branded rugby's Galacticos, due to Mourad Boudjellal's chequebook - the man who “flirted dangerously with salaries of one million euros a year,” . Today he spends about €250,000 a month on just five of his top galaxy of players - not one of whom is French. 

Toulon may well be one of the best teams in the tournament, and yes, the game is professional, but there are genuine fears that cheque-book rugby will take the sport down the road of the English premiership where the trophy cabinet is dominated by only a handful of the super rich.  Does a team of international stars truly represent the community? Does it help promote the game at its grassroots, develop players - and ultimately the national game? Professional sport may be about producing the best side regardless of whether one's teams resources are so much bigger than another, and a European elite is certainly emerging based purely on financial resources, but there is so much more to being a professional.  Just ask Gavin Duffy and Michael Swift on Saturday night.

Linley MacKenzie


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