Joe Brolly

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - JOE BROLLY

It is an at­tack on a dys­func­tional sys­tem that is de­stroy­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion na­tion­wide. A sys­tem where hypocrisy and rhetoric has re­placed hon­esty.

I’VE been in Omagh over the past month, de­fend­ing a young man from Derry city charged with tak­ing part in a rebel train­ing camp in Syria. ‘Paddy Ji­hadi’ the tabloids call him. Or ‘Ea­monn of Ara­bia’.

The pros­e­cu­tion is grossly hyp­o­crit­i­cal. Bri­tish spe­cial forces are on the ground in Syria, as­sist­ing the rebel al­liance against the As­sad regime and ISIL, both of whom have been re­peat­edly ac­cused of war crimes by the UN. We showed the jury pic­tures ob­tained by the BBC of heav­ily armed SAS units in Syria. The UK gov­ern­ment has been — ac­cord­ing to a wide range of in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected bod­ies — re­sourc­ing the rebels with weapons and funds and train­ing. But of course they won’t ad­mit it.

“Are the SAS op­er­at­ing in Syria, in sup­port of the rebel al­liance?”

“We do not com­ment on such mat­ters.”

“Is the gov­ern­ment fund­ing these rebels?”

“Her Majesty’s gov­ern­ment does not fund rebels.”

On Tues­day of last week, after a sec­ond lengthy trial in the space of six months, where the pros­e­cu­tion threw the kitchen sink at my client, a sec­ond jury was also un­able to reach a ver­dict. There will not be a third trial.

Hypocrisy has be­come the norm in so­ci­ety.

Dur­ing the trial, I spent a lot of time hang­ing around Omagh, mostly in Wee John’s cafe be­side the court.

The Ty­rone peo­ple are not happy with hypocrisy ei­ther. In this, they are no dif­fer­ent from GAA folk in the rest of the country. A huge amount of money has been raised by Club Ty­rone, here and in the US. Their enor­mously ex­pen­sive Gar­vaghey centre would not be out of place at Real Madrid. It is a white ele­phant, a mon­u­ment to the dys­func­tion that is the mod­ern GAA.

Like else­where, the county game dwarfs the club game, mak­ing it an af­ter­thought. County football is a black hole, swal­low­ing ev­ery­thing in its path. So Ty­rone (hav­ing kept their club cham­pi­onship on ice while a tiny county elite train at Gar­vaghey, and play five games in four months) are cur­rently run­ning it off like the Kil­macud Sevens. In the race to get it over and done with, some club teams are play­ing two games in three days. With fix­tures be­ing sched­uled at short no­tice, club play­ers do not know when or where their next game will be. Play­ers trav­el­ling from Eng­land are can­celling flights, then re­book­ing them.

The dys­func­tion, and hu­mil­i­a­tion, is un­der­lined by the fact that Ty­rone se­nior cham­pi­onship games are be­ing played . . . wait for it . . . in the Ath­letic Grounds in Ar­magh. So, the GAA folk of Ard­boe and Omagh had to travel to an­other county last week to see their teams play in one of the big­gest clashes of the cham­pi­onship. On Tues­day past, the peo­ple of Pomeroy and Clo­noe had to go there to watch their lads bat­tle it out. Talk about rub­bing their noses in it.

Only Omagh has lights, in spite of the vast amounts of money raised by Ty­rone’s Gaels over the past decade. If it rains, Omagh is un­playable. On the other hand, it has a press box that cost £800,000. Gar­vaghey, where Bear Grylls could make an episode of his ex­treme sur­vival se­ries, has no spec­ta­tor fa­cil­i­ties to host a cham­pi­onship game.

The Ty­rone county ma­chine is the only thing that re­ally mat­ters. Like a Pre­mier League soc­cer team, it has been re­branded ‘The Ty­rone Acad­emy’. At the start of the 2017 season, ‘The Ty­rone Acad­emy’ wrote a letter to ev­ery club in Ty­rone con­cern­ing the mi­nor and un­der 17 squads, that sounds like some­thing you might re­ceive from a PR com­pany. Two peo­ple sent me on the letter, both with the warn­ing ‘you didn’t get this from me’.

Start­ing with the words, “We wish you all a happy new year”, what fol­lows would be hi­lar­i­ous if it were not so se­ri­ous. The letter sym­pa­thet­i­cally points out how con­scious ev­ery­one at the Acad­emy is about the de­mands on un­der­age play­ers and of the Acad­emy’s de­sire to “avoid un­nec­es­sary pres­sure be­ing ap­plied on young play­ers”. A lot of su­gar is poured, fine rhetoric of the Aogán Ó Fearghaíl type about the clubs be­ing the lifeblood of the as­so­ci­a­tion.

My favourite bit of hypocrisy is: “We re­in­force to play­ers that your club is of paramount im­por­tance — a player be­gins with the club and ends with the club, and for that rea­son we in­sist that play­ers wear their club jersey to train­ing.”

Why didn’t any­one else ever think of that? Wor­ried about in­juries, burnout, elitism, in­suf­fi­cient time to study or work, the in­creas­ing ir­rel­e­vance of the club? Never mind. The Ty­rone Acad­emy, backed by Club Ty­rone, has found the so­lu­tion: WEAR YOUR CLUB JERSEY!

The punch­line of the letter is in the small print. To en­sure that the clubs re­main the pri­or­ity, the letter con­tin­ues: “The county mi­nor squad will only have pitch ses­sions on Mon­days and Thurs­days with a gym ses­sion on Satur­day morn­ing, and to min­imise dis­rup­tion, the un­der 17 squad will mir­ror this sched­ule.”

This doesn’t take into ac­count matches and chal­lenge games, which means ef­fec­tively a four-day-a-week county com­mit­ment for 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, start­ing in Jan­uary.

The rest of the letter is full of the same bull­shit. For ex­am­ple, it says the train­ing and match sched­ule for the two squads has been designed “to avoid un­nec­es­sary pres­sure on young play­ers” and that the Acad­emy “wants to work closely and in co-op­er­a­tion with clubs and schools to man­age the train­ing loads”. That’s a full three days in the week (out­side school and travel hours) for club football, school football and life.

This is not an at­tack on Ty­rone. It is an at­tack on a dys­func­tional sys­tem that is de­stroy­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion na­tion­wide. A sys­tem where hypocrisy and rhetoric has re­placed hon­esty, and where the clubs are only feeder teams for the county.

Gar­vaghey is a white ele­phant, a mon­u­ment to the dys­func­tion of the mod­ern GAA

Photo: Oliver McVeigh

‘Only Omagh has lights, in spite of the vast amounts of money raised over the past decade. If it rains, Omagh is un­playable.’

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