IN the 13 years I have been writing this column, the article which drew a response I would never have anticipated was meant to be a light-hearted piece on how to make a fortune in three months.
Last February, I suggested an eight-way accumulator from the Allianz Leagues and AIB club championships. It was illustrated by a mock betting slip showing (pictured below) how â‚¬100 could be turned into â‚¬1.12m and was designed to be a bit of fun while also providing an alternative way of discussing the merits of the recommended teams.
The reaction was surprising. Apart from the usual differences of opinion, there was another reaction, which has now been brought into focus by GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell.
Quite a few people claimed the column should not have been written because -- as they perceived it -- it promoted gambling. There were complaints that pointers on how to win over â‚¬1m by betting on football and hurling was unfair on people who suffer from gambling addictions.
"Don't do the bookmakers' work for them. A piece like that can be dangerous. I know from experience what I'm talking about," commented one reader in a hand-written letter.
I have to admit I hadn't thought of it that way. It seemed like a harmless exercise, using odds to make the case for various teams, but not everybody saw it like that.
Now whether the difficulties of a small minority should take precedence to such a degree that anything which might impact on them has to be avoided is a moot point. Using that logic, every pub would be closed down in deference to people who suffer from alcoholism.
Nonetheless, it would be arrogant to dismiss the strongly-held convictions of those who objected to the column as a minority trying to dictate to everybody else. Clearly, they had their reasons, perhaps even deeply personal ones in some cases.
In an interview in this paper yesterday, Farrell described gambling in the GAA as a problem that "is going to hit us like a steam train coming down the tracks." He said the extent of the gambling issue had taken the GPA by surprise in the last six months.
"They're all coming out of the woodwork now with serious problems and the issues that stem from gambling, like significant debt and the upset in the home," said Farrell.
The GPA are working at providing professional support for current and ex-players while also putting together an education programme on the whole area of gambling. While Farrell has articulated a problem that has come to the GPA's attention, it can be taken as read that it applies in other sports too -- and indeed across the whole of society.
Still, credit to Farrell for highlighting it as a specific problem in his area of operations. It wouldn't be the first time that the GAA touched on a broader problem in society and set about working on it.
However, a serious issue like this shouldn't be left to a players' representative group -- in this case the GPA -- or indeed to the GAA at central level either. It's part of a more widespread difficulty and needs to be tackled accordingly, by Government if necessary.
Meantime, Farrell has courageously highlighted a problem which is coming across his desk. Presumably, the GPA would welcome additional funding to help boost their education programme in the gambling area.
Wouldn't it be nice to see the bookmaking industry making a contribution to the fund? Bookmaking can't be blamed for the problem but it should regard itself as part of the solution. It could become involved by financially supporting the GPA's support programme.
After all, bookmakers are doing well from GAA players through ever-increasing betting on hurling and football, so backing initiatives to help those who fall victim to addiction is the least the industry might do.
At a different level, there's another problem for the GAA.
It's now possible to bet on every facet of county and club games, adding to the temptation for players to play the market. Now there's a dangerous possibility.
PS -- My suggestions on how to win big last spring didn't quite work out, since three of the eight tips didn't come in. All of which goes to show that it's not that easy to become a millionaire off a â‚¬100 start!
McConville: One player on every county panel hooked on gambling
By Colm Oâ€™Connor http://www.irishexaminer.com
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
OisÃn McConville has made a startling claim that at least one player on every county panel in Ireland is battling gambling addiction.
The former Armagh footballer came out as a gambling addict himself in 2007 and is now working as a counsellor to help others with the same problems.
He is at the coalface of an issue he describes as â€˜massiveâ€™ and insists the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) chief Dessie Farrellâ€™s revelation that three top players booked in for treatment in the last year alone is â€˜hugely conservativeâ€™.
He estimates there are many players dealing with gambling problems nationwide but that the vast majority havenâ€™t yet sought treatment. Itâ€™s a big statement to make and, if true, means the GAA are dealing with a ticking time bomb that, as McConville says, â€˜is about to explodeâ€™.
Asked how prevalent gambling problems are in the Association, McConville said, "I would imagine that a player on every county team is in the situation. I would severely suspect that. Thatâ€™s what I believe right now.
"It seems that a lot of people are quite shocked by what the GPA has come out with, about the three players going in for treatment. The only surprise to me is that we werenâ€™t reading this two or three years ago. Because this didnâ€™t happen today or yesterday. Exposure to gambling has increased 500 or 1000% in the last six or seven years.
"I would have gambled with a lot of fellas in Armagh and even around the club. It can be very much a thing that a team does almost together. So itâ€™s widespread. None of this stuff is news to me. And I think itâ€™s about to explode onto another level.
"Iâ€™m not just talking from a sporting point of view or a GAA point of view but society generally.
"Iâ€™ll tell you how I would sum it up â€” it was always the case that every family in Ireland could say they knew someone who had a drink problem.
"Ireland was always associated with a drink culture. But I honestly believe that gambling is right up there at the same level now, as far as causing problems within families, societal problems and all that sort of thing."
The GAA hasnâ€™t been slow to acknowledge the effects of unemployment on its members. McConville draws strong links between this issue and gambling addiction.
"The studies actually show that in times of recession gambling addiction increases," continued the 2002 All-Ireland medallist. "Youâ€™ve got lads out of work with time on their hands and thatâ€™s when a lot of the problems start.
"The other side of it is the accessibility. Nearly every young footballer has a phone with internet access. So people who might never have been in a bookies in their lives suddenly have the option of going online and having a bet. And for every six or seven people who get exposed to that, one of those develops a problem. Thatâ€™s what the evidence suggests."
McConville shocked the GAA world when he revealed his gambling problems in his book â€˜The Gamblerâ€™.
Last year, Offaly star Niall McNamee made the same admission and revealed he was also undergoing treatment.
McConville said the more that higher profile players go public with their individual stories, the more the taboo of gambling addiction can be addressed and tackled properly.
McConville knows the three players that Farrell was talking about, â€˜fairly well known ladsâ€™, and has no problem being the first point of contact for other inter-county players if they wish.
"I have no problem doing that because nobody will ever quite understand how big a problem this is for so many households around the country on a day to day basis," he said.
"The least that I can do, having got the same help in the past myself, is to talk about it openly like this and encourage others to do so.
"Iâ€™ll never stop being grateful to the people in the GAA and outside of it who helped me. I donâ€™t claim to have all the answers now but I can at least point people in the right direction."
McConville: One player on every county panel hooked on gambling By Colm Oâ€™Connor http://www.irishexaminer.comWednesday, October 31, 2012 OisÃn McConville has made a startling claim that at least one player on every county panel in Ireland is battl