Monday 27 March 2017

How GAA stars discovered whole new ball game in field of politics

Ken Sweeney

Ken Sweeney

FROM the playing fields to the corridors of power. A new book details how the GAA has been a breeding ground for Irish politicians for over a century.

It was a point not lost on the late Seamus Brennan, who, welcoming the Green Party to Government Buildings in July 2007, told them: "You're playing senior hurling now lads. But you are playing with lads who have All-Ireland medals."

Conor McMorrow, the author of the new book 'Dail Stars: From Croke Park To Leinster House', said that playing for "their club and counties makes GAA players heroes in their constituencies" and that, in turn, gives them a head start in terms of politics. "That's why they are often courted by political parties," he added.

Top of the list of GAA figures who successfully made the switch from pitch to politics was the late Taoiseach Jack Lynch, a six-time All-Ireland- winning football and hurling star.

Following in the footsteps of his older brother, he began playing hurling with his local Glen Rovers GAA club in Cork at the age of 10. By 1938, aged 20, Lynch was captain of the Cork hurling team, and the following year became the only player in history to captain the intercounty football and hurling teams in the same year.

This led to Lynch captaining Cork against Kilkenny in the famous 'Thunder and Lightning' 1939 All-Ireland Hurling Final in Croke Park.

Storm

Recounting the match in a 1982 interview with RTE, Lynch said: "It was a raging storm and the rain came down like stair rods. At times it was impossible to see more than 20 yards ahead of you."

Although that game ended with Cork suffering a one-point defeat, the match began a golden era for Cork hurling, with Lynch and his Leesiders going on to play seven All-Ireland Hurling Finals in a row and winning five.

Although initially disinterested in politics when first approached by Fianna Fail, he later rose to the highest office in the land.

"I think I learnt from hurling and football a discipline and a self-control, how to cope with both victory and defeat," Mr Lynch said many years later.

Fine Gael TD Jimmy Deenihan is a classic example of someone who wasn't thinking about politics until he was approached by Fine Gael.

Mr Deenihan, who played in six All-Ireland Finals for Kerry, said: "The GAA is the only reason I am a politician. I came from a strong Fine Gael background but I had never gone to a political meeting in my life.

"And it wasn't at all my ambition to be a politician. The only reason Fine Gael asked me to run for politics was because I was captain of the Kerry team in 1981."

The stories of how Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris won an under-21 All-Ireland title in 1973 as an IRA fugitive; and how Blueshirts' founder and former Ulster GAA secretary Eoin O'Duffy once invited a Nazi spy to attend an All-Ireland final in 1940, are also recounted in McMorrow's new book.

Irish Independent

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