A symbolic occasion in more ways than one

T HE first thing to point out about last
Saturday night, which saw the GAA
begin its official 125th anniversary celebrations following Dublin-Tyrone in the NFL opener, is that, that kind of anniversary celebration is, by its nature, a bit of a challenge.

What’s too much? What’s too little? There isn’t even a precious stone you could adopt
for the anniversary: gold and diamond are
appropriate for earlier milestones, but what manner of precious stone would fit 125 years?

Something quarried by friendly aliens from the centre of Halley’s Comet?

Writing in Saturday night’s match programme, Jarlath Burns, chairman of the 125th anniversary committee, outlined the challenges facing him and the committee by listing alphabetically the aspects of the GAA they felt they needed to cover: “All-Irelands, camogie, amateur status, the Championship, Congress, clubs, colleges, communities, counties, Croke Park, culture, Cusack, football, founding members, handball, hurling, Irish language, ladies football, legends, overseas, players, presidents, provinces, rounders, schools, Scor, Thurles, underage.”

Incidentally, if you need verification that Burns was the right man to chair the committee, what he wrote was that he listed the topics in alphabetical order “to avoid offence”.

Sounds like a man all too aware of the tendencies of his constituents.

After a cracking NFL game between the All-Ireland football champions and their
opponents from the capital, we had a light show with fireworks in Croke Park, and your opinion on the much-reported half-million
euro worth of fireworks and lights probably
depends on your perspective.

If you rocked up to Croke Park on Saturday night as an interested punter it probably looked like money well spent. If you watched on television as a harassed club treasurer you probably had a very different take on the entertainment.

That’s not to say that we’re endorsing a new puritanism as a worldwide financial meltdown forces us back to the technological equivalent of 884, never mind 1884.

If its money that belongs to the GAA, then the GAA can spend that money as it sees fit.

What occurred to this viewer was that the show could be viewed as an emphatic full stop, and future historians may decide that the
fireworks and lights serve as the watershed which marks the passing of the Celtic tiger.

It’s likely to be the last occasion for a long time at which you see hundreds of thousands of euro go up in smoke before your eyes
outside of an Anglo Irish Bank shareholders
meeting. The post-match show came across to this viewer like a cross between Led Zeppelin at the Oakland Coliseum and the fertility
rituals of the Tuatha De Dannann. The
Cranberries, Clannad and U2 provided the soundtrack, and in the middle came a snatch
of one of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s speeches. Why that had to be used is anyone’s guess.

Then again, host Hector Ó hEochagáin
proclaimed before the light show that Croke Park had outdrawn the Super Bowl, Lansdowne Road, Highbury and other sporting venues. Again, why that had to be stated is a mystery – in fairness, Lansdowne Road isn’t even open, last time we checked, Highbury is now an apartment block – but there seemed to be a determination to hammer home the point that the GAA was more than a sporting organisation at any and every opportunity.

In fact, reading the souvenir programme, with guest articles from the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Brendan Gleeson and Senator David Norris, sometimes you had to remind yourself that the GAA was a sporting organisation at all.

Back on the field, fireworks launched from the pitch perimeter left a residue of faint mist drifting around the darkened stadium, and you half-expected Oisín of the Fianna to step onto the field via the referee’s tunnel at the corner of the Cusack Stand to proclaim that things had changed a good deal since his departure for Tir na nÓg. His opinion of the new experimental rules would have been well worth hearing.
ALL things considered, the creation of
some kind of pseudo-Celtic occasion
recalling a Horslips album cover seemed to us gilding the lily more than somewhat, but each to his own. To some extent you’re never going to please everyone with an event like last Saturday’s.

The match programme described the game and show as a ‘GAA 125th anniversary spectacle’, and in fairness to the footballers of Dublin and Tyrone, they certainly provided a spectacle.

They also encapsulated some basic GAA principles. In Dublin versus Tyrone you had urban versus rural, hungry challengers versus established champions. The colours alone were the most basic opposites: blue versus red.

Proud GAA traditions held sway. The game began nearly 10 minutes late, for instance, and wound down to a time-honoured climax. For all the hydration, diet, tactical innovation and laptop analysis, one team was forced to defend a two-point lead with time running out, and the best their opponents could do with a late free was to bomb it in hopefully around the house, to no avail.

The very highest tradition, excellence, was also upheld. Tyrone’s Stephen O’Neill gave an exhibition that warmed up a freezing night. On 30 minutes he threaded a point over from near the end line at the Canal End that was as good as anything ever seen in Croke Park.

The real glory of the GAA is that you don’t have to wait 125 years to see that again. O’Neill is out in two weeks again to play
Kerry. That prospect, and others like it, is truly worth celebrating.

Have your cake and eat it

WELL, it’s nothing if not entertaining.

At the last count, the past fortnight has provided GAA events as diverse as Parnellgate 2: the reckoning and the exclusion zone around Croke Park for parking.

Our inner Einstein can’t help trying to draw such apparently unrelated events together in a kind of unified field theory of everything way – the brawl in Parnell Park a non-non-violent demonstration against the two-kilometre exclusion zone around Jones Road.

Probably a stretch, that one.

Events in Parnell Park defy belief. Dublin boss Paul Caffrey outlined last week why he didn’t feel his team was a dirty one, only for those same players to make him look rather foolish last Sunday. Either he doesn’t know his team or those players aren’t listening to him.

Isolated sendings-off such as those involving Mark Vaughan against Monaghan are one thing – a manager can explain those away. He can explain away his backroom staff running onto the field to assault opposition players if he sees fit, even if nobody’s buying it. Certainly a generalised dislike of the county team he’s in charge of isn’t something a manager has any great control over.

But a 29-man brawl, coming on the back of the last few weeks of Dublin’s disciplinary record?

It takes two to tango, or rhumba, or foxtrot, or whatever some of the participants last Sunday were up to, and Meath share the responsibility. What’s sharpening the knives of observers
everywhere is that Dublin have been getting nearer and nearer to crossing the line all season, and stepping over it so decisively and unambiguously is like a Christmas present for the commentariat.

What caused it?

It may be over-egging the pudding somewhat, but Meath had a tame exit from last year’s championship, and Dublin went under meekly to Armagh the previous week in the league. As a fixture to show you have hairs on your chest a clash with traditional neighbours and rivals is hard to beat. Maybe that was at the root of it.

As often happens, the associated commentary this week was almost as interesting as the incident itself. We were intrigued to hear Eugene McGee talking about the hatred that can exist between GAA teams and the mistaken idea that two teams can be all pals at the final whistle and put an hour’s combat behind them.

That sounds a bit extreme to us. If it were an hour or two, or maybe a week or two, it’s quite conceivable that the bile could still be tasted. But judging from Michael Foley’s excellent Kings of September, an account of the 1982 All-Ireland football final between McGee’s Offaly and Kerry, even mortal enemies can find peace eventually.

Still, the mere fact that a respected commentator like McGee floats the idea means it has to be given credence. His handle on that loosely defined creature, the culture of the GAA, means attention must be paid, and perhaps ‘good-natured rivalry’ is a loose term covering real enmity.

The most hilarious non-insight into the brawl and its surrounding mushroom-cloud of discussion came on Sunday Sport last weekend, when RTE’s Michael Lyster invited analyst Coman Goggins to comment on the festivities, saying “the media and the newspapers” would be full of the fight for the week ahead – while showing the brawl on national television.

If the papers and the media are on this side, are Michael and his colleagues handing down tablets of stone from the archbishop’s pulpit (The Diocese of Having Your Cake And Eating It)?

Anyway. To judge from Caffrey’s comments to this newspaper yesterday, hatred isn’t at the root of the trouble between Dublin and Meath. He said he rang Meath boss Colm Coyle after the brawl and they ended up laughing.

However, Caffrey said he felt the 16 players who faced suspension were being hung out to dry and the reaction since last Sunday has been over the top . . . while also saying the incident shouldn’t have happened and that Dublin are under scrutiny.

That being the case, he surely understands that that scrutiny comes in a context – that of Dublin’s performance this season so far. Accepting that you have a problem in the first place is the first step towards real change. But that raises another couple of questions: are Dublin in the mood for change? Do we want them to be any different?

And finally, we have to ask: was anyone done for ‘contributing to a melee’?

Contact: Michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Brothers
in the struggle (almost)

THERE HAS been some discussion as to why other counties are not coming out in solidarity with Cork’s striking hurlers and footballers. Well, during the week we
established the following…

Dublin were going to come out on strike but they arrived onto the picket line in dribs and drabs past the appointed time and their delay meant the protest never really got off the ground.

Meath were going to strike but when they heard Dublin were going on strike they decided not to, out of badness.

Antrim were going to strike but nobody understands the situation in the north if they haven’t been there, you know?

Armagh were going to strike but felt that wouldn’t be taking the whole thing seriously enough so they went back training.

Donegal were going to strike but decided not to because they never succeed in anything if Brian McEniff isn’t involved so they went back.

Down were going to strike but decided not to because a perfect
industrial relations record in certain disputes with Kerry would be
jeopardised.

Derry were going to strike but felt everyone would say it was a one-man operation based on Paddy Bradley.

Carlow were going to strike but the seductive mistress that is potential victory in an O’Byrne Cup semi-final drained their resolve.

Longford were going to strike but couldn’t fit all the letters on the placard; Louth were going to strike but you know, it’s over 50 years since the last time…

Cavan were going to strike but felt everyone would think they were playing up to the stingy stereotype so they went back.

Clare were going to strike but somebody forgot to bring the
placards to the hill in Crusheen so Mike Mac said they might as well run up and down the slope for an hour anyway.

Kildare were going to strike but felt white would clash with the placards; Wicklow were going to strike but decided that Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry had never been on strike so they went back; and Laois were going to go on strike but felt they’d succeeded with Micko
without going on strike so they, too, went back.

Galway were going to strike but felt separate protests for hurling
and football were unworkable; Mayo were going to go on
strike but heartbreakingly they were pipped at the post when their
placards never turned up at the last minute. Leitrim were going to go on strike but felt their picket line would be too small to be noticed.

Westmeath were going to strike but decided not to out of respect to Joe Dolan; Wexford were going to strike but felt one good performance was all they’d get out of it.

Limerick were going to strike but decided to head off and play a bit of rugby with Shannon while they were out of action.

Waterford were going to strike but felt people liked their team so much they’d be better off going back. Tipperary were going to strike but decided not to because they felt they had nothing to prove: the finest.

Fermanagh were going to strike but half the county is water and half is Protestant, so where would they get pickets? Monaghan were going to strike but they couldn’t find a Patrick Kavanagh poem about strikes so they went back.

Offaly were going to go on strike but got annoyed with everyone
saying they’d be too busy partying to picket properly that they went back to prove the naysayers wrong.

Roscommon were going to go on strike but felt their promising minor pickets were too inexperienced, so they went back; Sligo were going to go on strike but hey, when you’re Connacht champs…

Tyrone were going to go on strike but felt that swarming in numbers all over the picket line would be counterproductive.

And Kerry were going to go on strike but felt that there were so many of them in Cork as it was that it was like they were on strike
anyway.

Kilkenny were going to go on strike but decided to have an oul’ puck-around around while they were on the picket lines, y’know?

Contact:
michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Business
as usual, just quieter than usual

AFTER the goings-on over the last couple
of months you might think the mini-spat
over Cork’s forfeiting of national league points is like another wearying chapter in a book that never seems to end.

Not a bit of it. After the Row That Dare Not Speak Its Name, a little run-of-the-mill crankiness, name-calling and finger-pointing is like a
holiday.

First things first. If Cork had been thrown out of the leagues, not having fulfilled fixtures in hurling and football, then nobody on Leeside could have had many complaints. (Although … hair-splitting though it may be, we understand the GAA agreed to defer the Meath football game, and that Cork were available to play
Waterford. Just saying).

What’s disappointing is the intransigence on the Dublin and Meath sides. You’d have hoped a little goodwill could have been generated to free up maybe a midweek clash with Dublin, for instance.

After all, it’s not as if the Dubs haven’t had goodwill extended to them in the past:
Westmeath were seriously discommoded when they had the throw-in for a championship game delayed because Dublin fans couldn’t make it from Clonliffe Road into Croke Park for the scheduled start time. But they played anyway.

Before we’re accused of bias, consider what one inter-county manager had this to say on the issue earlier in the week: “I’m very disappointed that counties like Meath and Dublin, who are held in such esteem, would take points in these circumstances. Could they not offer to re-fix the games with Cork at their convenience, maybe even in midweek?

“Meath were due to have home venue anyway and Dublin should get it too so why couldn’t they play those games in
midweek rather than having a training session? Who wants points if you don’t play for them?”

The thoughts of Monaghan football boss Seamus McEnaney. He’s not alone, by the way.

Earlier in the week Armagh manager Peter McDonnell said his side would have been agreeable to a re-fixture if one of the games Cork missed had been against the Orchard County. “It’s not about picking up points as if in a lottery,” said McDonnell. “What happened in Cork was unfortunate but we’re all GAA people so there should be a degree of
flexibility now that they’re back in the fold.

“From an Armagh perspective, I would not want points for a game we didn’t play. How much better off would we be in real terms by finishing higher up the table through points we didn’t earn on the pitch?”

Now, a cynic might point out that Monaghan and Armagh both share a division with Cork, Dublin and Meath, and that McEneaney and McDonnell have a vested interest.

But their points are valid, particularly the Monaghan manager’s. His side are being punished because Dublin and Meath are unwilling to help Cork out.

Everyone shouldn’t rush at once to make the point that the initial problem arose because of Cork’s strike. It was still within Dublin and Meath’s power to help re-fix those games, and they chose not to do so. The consequence which nobody seems willing to point out is that it makes an utter nonsense of the league, which is now a shambles halfway through February.

The contrast with Kilkenny’s attitude in the hurling league couldn’t be more striking.

The Cats’ eagerness to play Cork has been interpreted several ways, with explanations ranging from Kilkenny’s anxiety for hard games to an keenness to do the right thing for hurling.

On its merits, however, the generosity of Ned Quinn and Brian Cody is unlikely to be forgotten for a long time in Cork and further afield.

Another likely side effect is the strengthening of prejudices among hurling snobs everywhere.

The knowing looks and satisfied nods will be all the more knowing and satisfied after this
particular exchange, with artistocrats of the game putting aside petty considerations of bureaucracy and procedure for the wicked chuckle of hurleys as dust — or mud — rises in the small square . . . ahem. Back to normality all around, then.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie