Monday 24 October 2016

Frank Coughlan: A funny old game when we need pat on back from Brits for Croker cracker

Published 04/10/2013 | 17:00

Clare and Cork players vie for the sliotar during the replay and inset, the 'Guardian' editorial praising the game
Clare and Cork players vie for the sliotar during the replay and inset, the 'Guardian' editorial praising the game

Well, isn't that a relief. After the final whistle in last Saturday's All-Ireland Final replay, I asked my companion: "I wonder was that hurling match any good at all?"

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He just shrugged his shoulders.

So it was a tense week as we waited for the answer, but it arrived yesterday. The relief.

That august British newspaper 'The Guardian', in a leader no less, confirmed what some of us had suspected: it was a cracker.

It spoke of "sporting combatants playing for love not money, with only helmets for protection, clash with ash sticks while trying to catch ball consisting of cork wrapped in thick leather".

It went on to compare hurling more than favourably with English football "soiled with Premiership antics".

We owe the newspaper a debt of gratitude because if it wasn't for this affirmation from London, we would never have been sure about this game of ours.

'The Guardian' would be bemused to note that its modest editorial comment would be swooned over and read out in full on 'Morning Ireland'.

What if we had been codding ourselves all these years?

But this isn't the first time in our history that we've glanced across the pond for affirmation.

A large chunk of our self-worth and self-esteem since independence has been dictated by this need of ours to get a pat on the back from our erstwhile masters.

Growing up I used to call it 'The Top of the Pops' syndrome. It was only when an Irish band turned up on the Beeb that we gave them any credence. I was a big offender myself.

To me Bob Geldof was just a loud-mouthed scruff until I watched him prowl that famous set. The Rats mattered to me after that.

And it was only after I read a rave review of U2 in the rock bible 'NME' that I took any notice of them.

The examples are endless.

Would we have seen 'Fr Ted' as anything other than paddywhackery if the then very cool Channel 4 hadn't championed it first?

I doubt it. To me Brendan O'Carroll is still about as digestible as last weekend's sliced pan, but there is no questioning the fact he is seen differently in Ireland since he became a BAFTA winner.

And every time an Irish politician poses at No 10 doesn't the entire nation ask: 'Jaysus, you think he'd be wearing a decent effin suit''.

So why are we still like this nearly a century after independence?

Why do we look to the nation so many of us (I seek an exemption on this one) love to loathe, for the thumbs-up?

Is it because, subconsciously at least, we are still bound emotionally to that other island? It's not as far-fetched as it sounds and anyone who throws anything more than a glance back at our complex shared history will see the seed of an interesting debate there.

But we'll leave that to academics.

The more obvious answer is that we still have lingering doubts about who we are as a nation. We've come a long way in a hundred years, but we're not the finished article yet.

You only have to look at our response to the economic crash to appreciate that. We went from thinking we were God's gift to humanity to an incoherent, gibbering mess overnight.

Confident, self-assured nations don't crumble like that. They just get on with it.

The GAA itself, the very embodiment of what it means to be culturally unique and self-sufficient, shows a variation of this trait.

A common refrain from hurling and gaelic commentators is how our games are superior to soccer in particular. Games for real men and honest amateurs who never flinch from the battle and all of that.

But why is it so important for GAA people to denigrate another sport when promoting their own? Aren't they confident enough in the genius of their own brands?

And safe to say that whatever arguments, this newspaper makes about the state of Premiership football this week, it will not unleash a public debate in England.

Gary Lineker won't even notice.

I look forward to the day when we can return the compliment.

Irish Independent

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