It’s now a ques­tion of what we truly stand for

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - JOE BROLLY

WALK­ING into an un­der 10 match last Sun­day morn­ing with my youngest boy, he said, “I can’t wait to dummy some­body to­day.” Af­ter his first dummy (a more or less per­fect ren­di­tion of the half-Mul­li­gan), he popped the ball over the bar, walked back to his po­si­tion, turned to look at me and winked. Life doesn’t get any bet­ter.

Mar­tin McCar­ney was ref­er­ee­ing the game. His son James is a great wee player and spends his life at matches, kick­ing ball on the field at half-time and chat­ting away to every­body. Mar­tin ref­er­ees very fairly, ex­cept when it comes to his own lads, who can­not buy a free. At one stage, James was through on goal only to be shoved in the back, caus­ing him to fall over. The boys on both teams stopped for a sec­ond, wait­ing for the whis­tle, but it never came. In­stead, Mar­tin waved play on. “Char­ac­ter-build­ing,” he said to me af­ter­wards.

This was Mar­tin’s sev­enth day in a row on club du­ties, in­clud­ing mark­ing out the Har­lequins pitch on Thurs­day in prepa­ra­tion for the un­der 16 fi­nals, a com­mit­tee meet­ing on Wed­nes­day, driv­ing a car-load to an un­der­age girls game, stew­ard­ing the car-park on Fri­day night at Har­lequins for the un­der 16 fi­nals, help­ing to ar­range the cel­e­bra­tions for the in­ter­me­di­ate cham­pi­ons on Sat­ur­day night, and so on. You’ve prob­a­bly never heard of him. But he is the most im­por­tant man in our club, which just about makes him the most im­por­tant man in our com­mu­nity.

Funny, he has never asked for any­thing from the GAA. In truth, it wouldn’t even oc­cur to him. In the same way that it wouldn’t oc­cur to a lot of us to take a minute to think about what the Mar­tin McCar­neys of this world have done to cre­ate this vi­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Take that dummy of my young boy’s, for ex­am­ple. It was great fun watch­ing it and the point that fol­lowed (he did it three times dur­ing the game and got a point each time), and the crowd got a kick from it. My son turned up, played the game, came home happy, chat­ter­ing away about his hour of fun. But be­fore he ar­rived at the pitch, six sets of goal­posts had been as­sem­bled and car­ried out onto the field.

The work that went into se­cur­ing those grounds at Cher­ry­vale was in­cred­i­ble. The lob­by­ing, the meet­ings, the fi­nances. Work that went on for years. Work done by men and women no­body will ever hear of. Then, there is the up­keep and the or­gan­i­sa­tion and the end­less ad­min­is­tra­tion. Then the coach­ing, start­ing at un­der 8 and run­ning twice and three times a week for­ever. Our own sec­re­tary Phil Con­very must be ex­hausted by his work­load but I never heard him com­plain. There are tens of thou­sands of Mar­tin McCar­neys all over the coun­try. With­out them, there would be no GAA.

On Fri­day night, our un­der 16s played the cham­pi­onship fi­nal against St Paul’s, un­der flood­lights at Har­lequins, which we share with the lo­cal rugby club. I have the priv­i­lege, along with Gareth Bradley and John McKenna, of coach­ing the team. The work they do is un­seen but con­stant. Like ev­ery team in the club, we are self­fund­ing, be­cause the club is spend­ing so much money on the in­fras­truc­tural work at our base at Mus­grave. When we ar­rived at Har­lequins, we were guided to a park­ing space by an army of vol­un­teers in high-viz jack­ets with the St Brigid’s logo on them and opt for life on the back. One of those vol­un­teers was Greg Blaney, who coaches un­der­ages teams, makes in­tel­li­gent con­tri­bu­tions at com­mit­tee meet­ings, and whose only con­cern is that the St Brigid’s fam­ily flour­ishes.

For me, there have been two truly great cen­tre half for­wards: Greg, and Brian McGuigan. Greg drove that Down team of the 1990s. He was a bas­tion, with a chest like a sil­ver­back. We played them once in a tem­pes­tu­ous cham­pi­onship game in the Ath­letic Grounds. At one stage, Greg won a break­ing ball from mid­field, was pushed to the ground and won his free. The ref­eree was blind­sided and wee Johnny McGurk, a fab­u­lous player and great friend, took the op­por­tu­nity to boot him as hard as he could. Greg roared. A loud roar. Then, he stood up, shook him­self, handed the ball to Ross Carr and went back to his spot. Wee Johnny looked at me and shook his head as if to say, what do you have to do? I sent Johnny a draft of this piece dur­ing the week, and he texted back: “Joe, this is slan­der, it is true I have kicked vir­tu­ally ev­ery for­ward in Ire­land, but those are pri­vate mat­ters.” As an aside, he also kicked Ca­van’s Ro­nan Carolan once in a game at the Ath­letic Grounds. At half-time, Michael Cranny said to him as he was walk­ing off, “Je­sus Johnny, you could at least try to dis­guise it.” Cranny was the lines­man.

Any­way, there was Greg Blaney, in the pour­ing rain last Fri­day night, at a match he had no fam­ily con­nec­tion with, guid­ing traf­fic and gen­er­ally help­ing out. The game it­self turned out to be a clas­sic. Our lads scored three goals, each one in­volv­ing the use of one of the four pri­mary dum­mies (the Mul­li­gan, half-Mul­li­gan, the Mc­Fad­den and the Bernie Flynn). Level af­ter 60 min­utes, in ex­tra time the game took on a life of its own, two groups of boys fight­ing for some­thing or other that I have never quite fig­ured out, with ev­ery fi­bre of their be­ing. With five min­utes to go, I walked over to the wooded area be­hind the pitch and sat on a trac­tor tyre, un­able to watch any longer. Then, the fi­nal whis­tle. We had won. The fam­i­lies and sup­port­ers flooded onto the pitch, ec­static. I went home af­ter­wards and re­alised my clothes were drenched through with sweat. Ex­hausted, just from watch­ing, I climbed into the shower and stood there for half-an-hour. At 11.30 that night, the coaches and some other club­mates met for a few pints. We sat there, sip­ping stout to­gether, in pure hap­pi­ness. We’ve had th­ese kids since they were un­der 8, with all their ups and downs, on and off the field.

Then, on Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon we headed up to Ahoghill for the in­ter­me­di­ate fi­nal against Dun­loy. I had three of the un­der 16s with me. When I got to the gate, the stew­ard said, “£22, Joe.” “I only have £20.” “Its £22.” “You may take the £20,” I said. The other ste­wards came over and one said, “Did you spend all your money on a ta­ble at Gooch’s tes­ti­mo­nial?” which got a good laugh. They let me off the £2.

What a game it was. Dun­loy were bet­ter to start with. Then Rory O’Neill, who played with me 11 years ago on the first St Brigid’s team to win an in­ter­me­di­ate cham­pi­onship, was brought on in the sec­ond half and trans­formed ev­ery­thing. The tin lid on the vic­tory came with an as­ton­ish­ing goal from Ben Leonard, straight from the pages of Hot Shot Hamish. He took a hand-pass off the shoul­der 30 me­tres out and let fly with a blaster that nearly took the net off. We were jump­ing in the ter­races.

Af­ter­wards, we gath­ered on the field and hugged and soaked it all up for nearly an hour, chat­ting and em­brac­ing and laugh­ing. Then, back to Har­lequins for food and drink and fun, Marty McCar­ney serv­ing big plates of sand­wiches.

Over the last few weeks, Gaels all over the coun­try and the globe have been ar­gu­ing over the rights and wrongs of Colm Cooper’s tes­ti­mo­nial. It has been a very po­larised shout­ing match, with no de­fin­i­tive an­swer to the ques­tion of whether it is right or wrong. In­creas­ingly, there is a barely-con­cealed war be­tween the GAA elites and the rest of the GAA. The rea­son we have been re­duced to this bick­er­ing amongst our­selves on th­ese cru­cial is­sues of prin­ci­ple (the GPA, paid man­agers and back­room teams, the in­ex­orable rise of naked self-in­ter­est, Sky, agents, a tes­ti­mo­nial, etc, etc) is down to the fail­ure of the GAA to cre­ate a new fit-for-pur­pose char­ter for the 21st cen­tury. I have lob­bied for this for 15 years now and while ev­ery per­son in the hi­er­ar­chy nods and agrees whole­heart­edly that this is ur­gently re­quired, none have done any­thing about it.

What do we stand for? What are our mod­ern core prin­ci­ples? What does am­a­teurism mean in the mod­ern era? What com­mer­cial trans­ac­tions are ac­cept­able? The fail­ure to develop a com­pre­hen­sive mod­ern con­sti­tu­tion, has in­evitably re­sulted in a free-for-all, with the as­so­ci­a­tion ac­cel­er­at­ing to­wards a Premier League soc­cer model where ev­ery­one takes their cut. Any­one who com­plains is cas­ti­gated as a be­grudger and an an­tique.

One ex­am­ple il­lus­trates my point. When Colm Cooper’s tes­ti­mo­nial was an­nounced, our Direc­tor Gen­eral Paraic Duffy had to ask the GAA’s lawyers whether he was break­ing any rule. Just think about that. Hav­ing looked at the rules, their ad­vice was that he was not. Duffy said on the ra­dio re­cently that hav­ing got that ad­vice, he went back to Cooper and told him, “If you want to go ahead with this you can­not be sus­pended, there can­not be a charge lev­elled against you. But I said to him ‘Are you sure you are do­ing the right thing here?” Noth­ing more elo­quently sums up the mess we are in.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the GAA com­mu­nity doesn’t want to sell it off for a few quid. But un­less the GAA acts quickly, that is pre­cisely what will hap­pen. The process is al­ready well un­der way.

This is all down to the GAA’s fail­ure to cre­ate a fit-for-pur­pose char­ter for the 21st cen­tury

Slaugh­t­neil sup­port­ers, James Kear­ney, Eoin Mul­hol­land and Dar­ragh Mul­hol­land stand for the na­tional an­them be­fore last Sun­day’s AIB Ul­ster club foot­ball cham­pi­onship match be­tween Kil­coo and Slaugh­t­neil, and, left, Joe with Marese Fin­negan, whose grand­son Rory was part of the St Brigid’s team which won the Antrim in­ter­me­di­ate cham­pi­onship last week­end.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.