Home > A thematic analysis of alcohol use and culture among elite GAA players.

Doyle, Anne ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2776-3476 (2023) A thematic analysis of alcohol use and culture among elite GAA players. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 86, Summer 2023, pp. 30-31.

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In Ireland, Gaelic football and hurling are the most popular field sports in the country, with in excess of 1.5 million spectators viewing the Championship finals every year. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) manages and promotes all Gaelic games, while the Gaelic Players Association represents almost 4,000 male and female players. A study published in 2022 highlighted that hazardous alcohol use, including binge drinking, and alcohol-related harms are prevalent among elite Gaelic footballers and hurlers.1 The online survey used in the 2022 study included an optional free text section for the players to make any comments in relation to alcohol; these comments were then examined in a 2023 study.2


A thematic analysis was completed on the responses provided by the players in the original anonymous web-based questionnaire, where they were asked to provide any additional comments about alcohol in the GAA. The thematic analysis involved creating a word cloud of the most frequently used words and phrases that were mentioned in the free text field provided. This allowed for an in-depth examination of the behaviours and attitudes
of the players in relation to alcohol.


One in five of the respondents (21%) to the 2022 survey provided additional comments on alcohol in the free text section, representing 111 comments thematically analysed.

As with the 2022 study, regarding the main content of the questionnaire, one theme was consistently emphasised in the free text field. This was of the impact of drinking bans commonly enforced on GAA players during the football and hurling season. The drinking ban was referenced several times, and players spoke of the binge drinking that commonly occurs once the season is over and the drinking ban lifted. The majority of comments in relation to this period of abstinence were negative. One comment reflected what most players felt about it:

Drinking bans are detrimental. They encourage binge drinking insofar as they stop you from drinking for a long period of time and so you feel obliged to get as much out of a drinking session as you can.

A number of comments referred to the pressures of being a GAA player, as opposed to other sports, including the drinking ban and how players are restricted from socialising at all. Others saw alcohol use as an opportunity for team bonding, but that alcohol use is an individual behaviour, and some players choose not to drink as it impacts their performance.

Respondents spoke of how alcohol is used to celebrate and commiserate, but that the culture within the GAA has changed and is less associated with alcohol use now.

However, also mentioned was the very young age that underage GAA players learn to associate alcohol use with sports, and that ‘children as young as 11 or 12 [have been witnessed] drinking after county final celebrations’. Also referenced was that hazardous alcohol use is a whole-population issue and that due to the age group of the players, it is not uncommon that such drinking occurs within this cohort and, as such, overinflates the issue as being GAA specific.

Alcohol sponsorship in the GAA had mixed views; some believed the revenue raised from such collaborations made it worthwhile, while others felt that it is a positive move to ban gambling and alcohol sponsorship.


The thematic analysis revealed that most players were cognisant of how long periods of abstinence result in episodes of binge drinking. Initiatives to reduce the association between alcohol use and the GAA should be considered.

1    Murray K, Murphy C, Herlihy A, et al. (2022) Harmful alcohol consumption in elite sports players in Ireland. Ir J Med Sci, 191(5): 2091–2098. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/35019/

2    Mac Gearailt C, Murphy C, McCaffrey J, et al. (2023) A thematic analysis of alcohol use and culture amongst elite (intercounty) Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) players. Ir J Med Sci, Early online. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/38729/

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