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Illustrator Keep AI out of your programmes, GAA — you're supposed to be the good guys

Barry Masterson says the GAA needs to do better than its AI-generated match programmes this week.


THE RECENT GAA/Artificial Intelligence (AI) match programme shemozzle that I inadvertently brought to national attention last weekend has been quite an experience.

Gladly, the reaction has been wide-ranging but mostly in support of artists, photographers and designers. When I sat down to share the pictures, I did not expect to have a weekend inundated with hundreds of replies, let alone be sitting here writing this.

As the GAA released its hurling programmes recently, it was obvious at first glance that something was amiss. The illustrations of the players were clearly done using AI, with hands and arms and faces out of proportion. They looked less like players of the game played here in Ireland for generations and more like burly American Football players.

Having been called out on social media, the GAA released a statement that said the programmes were created as “part of an experiment” with a partner. 

I work as a freelance illustrator, mostly within the sports industry. I have worked with both the GAA and the FAI. I would never stand over the release of ‘artwork’ such as this and am so disappointed to see it creeping in to this area, given how much dedicated work goes into such creations normally. 

At the GAA, I’ve worked with designer Ed Moynihan over the previous few years making illustrations to help explain incoming camogie rule changes, while with the FAI, communications manager Gareth Maher brought me on board around 2017/18 to illustrate match programme covers for the men’s and women’s international football teams amongst other projects.

Community is key

I understand how much planning and oversight goes into work like this, from style and brand guidelines to the concepts organisations want to visualise. It is often a collaborative approach, with a host of people and ideas coming together to make this kind of artwork.

GN14oytXQAAx-2e GAA.

I myself was an average footballer at best, who made it as far as winning a Longford u21 Gaelic championship on the bench for my local club Dromard before deciding my talents lay elsewhere. The GAA says it is about community, its people, promoting Irish games and our culture. It is about more than the 30 people on the pitch or on TV.

Provincial and all-Ireland finals mean nothing without the people who do the work off the pitch. Who are their games for, exactly, if not the supporters? Perhaps they need to look into fostering the creatives who love their games. The money is there, but is the appetite? There are countless people who would only love an opportunity. We are a country that prides ourselves in our creative output, but do we actually want to support the next generation, or live off of past success?

The rise of tech

AI is here, and we’re all learning to grapple with the sweeping changes it brings. This should not mean we just bow down to the new disruptive overlord and give up all we have achieved as a creative, intelligent people. There’s no doubt AI has the power to bring revolutionary and welcome developments in certain fields like healthcare and innovation, but like its sisters, social media and smartphones, it also brings with it a ‘Wild West’ of untested, unregulated change that might just disrupt a little too much and lead us in the wrong direction. 

The issue of AI and theft is a very real one. The models these AI programmes have been built upon have been learning directly from the labour of others. No creative was given the option to opt in or out, and no one was compensated. These companies stand to make untold fortunes while decimating creative industries and gutting jobs. Recently, it emerged that Hollywood A-lister Scarlett Johansson had taken legal action against an AI app over the use of a voice very similar to hers. The company in question has since changed the app version’s sound. Cases like these are unlikely to be the last we’ll see, but while artists like Johansson may have the clout and finances to stand their ground, most artists will not. 

scarlett-johansson-right-and-lorne-michaels-saturday-night-live-creator-and-producer-attend-the-white-house-correspondents-association-dinner-at-the-washington-hilton-saturday-april-27-2024 Scarlett Johansson. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Closer to home, another recent example of the use of AI that filled me with dismay was An Post’s St Patrick’s Day cards, where the company asked people to generate AI digital cards to send to loved ones. On the surface, it might seem like a fun experiment but it’s important here to understand why so many artists would be unhappy. We have good reason to be concerned about the future direction of large bodies like the GAA and An Post, and one step into the realm of AI is too far.

Whatever about the use of AI itself, the GAA covers from this weekend were an affront to everyone, so quickly thrown together, with glaring mistakes no human would ever make.

The fact they made it to print at all says a lot about the time and care that was put into something that could be considered a souvenir of what could be the biggest day in many players and their families’ sporting lives. How did someone, possibly multiple people look at images of facemasks tearing through faces, hands blending into footballs, hurls attached to armpits and soccer goals on a GAA pitch, and think, this is fine actually?


It is an insult to consumers and an indication of how we are viewed if work like this is deemed acceptable for the masses. If we accept low standards, we will get exactly what we deserve. We should want real work that real people created, that shows intention and has a soul, not some procedurally generated slop that means nothing and says even less.

Respect for a skillset

If you don’t have the budget or time available to hire an illustrator, don’t insult us by resorting to AI, you have access to a whole world of brilliant photography and designers who would all only love their chance to be involved in projects on this scale. I fully empathise with organisations trying to hit deadlines or stay under budget, but this is not the solution.

I can say that my work on match programmes in the Aviva and Tallaght stadiums for international matches that tens of thousands have seen is the highlight of my professional life and a privilege I do not take lightly. Products like match programmes can sell literally tens of thousands of copies. Imagine how many are picked up in Croke Park on All Ireland Day. Don’t tell me an AI deserves that privilege, and that an artist, designer or photographer couldn’t be compensated instead?


I am 33 years old, I am self-employed, living in a country in the midst of a cost of living crisis, I feel no security and with little to no hope of ever owning a house in the future. So many people in my generation can’t afford a home, let alone start having families. The existential threat AI poses goes far beyond me and my illustrator peers. It is coming for all of us in different guises.

There have already been well-documented and numerous cases of AI being used to write articles, journalism and its capacity to inform and make a difference in the world is already being eroded by capitalism and the demand for short quick fixes, constant content, profits above all else.

It is important for everyone that we do not let this slip further. AI has infiltrated the music industry, voice acting, video games and TV, there is no limit to what some industries will go to improve profit for themselves and shareholders at the expense of all else.

Rather than algorithms churning out nonsense, I want art, news, words, and music that were made by humans, that encompass our lived experiences. Do better, GAA, you’re supposed to be one of the good guys. 

Barry Masterson is an Irish illustrator. Since studying printmaking at the Limerick School of Art and Design, he has worked freelance creating book covers and editorial illustrations for publishing and online content as well as match programme covers for the Football Association of Ireland international teams.

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