Wednesday 28 September 2016

For the love of the game, club and county, that nothing can ever tarnish . . . not even time itself

John Daly

Published 27/08/2016 | 02:30

'It appears inexcusable that a county like Kildare fits in only one round of the MFC by the end of August.' Stock photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
'It appears inexcusable that a county like Kildare fits in only one round of the MFC by the end of August.' Stock photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The way things are going, you'll soon need a master's degree to play hurling or football. Time was not so long ago when the average GAA team was mostly composed of farmers, truck drivers or labourers - hard men with calloused hands who played their sport with the same toughness with which they earned their living.

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Back in the 1960s, having a national teacher on a team would have been considered exotic.

All is changed, changed utterly. Nowadays, the occupations of those playing our national sports reads like the entry programme for Trinity College or the Smurfit Business School - solicitors are 10 a penny, budding doctors are everywhere, followed by finance directors, forensic accountants, electrical engineers and med-tech entrepreneurs.

It wouldn't be at all surprising to find an atom-splitting scientist playing midfield nowadays.

When it comes to brain power, Croke Park 2016 can hold its own with Wall Street or the Square Mile any day.

If you want a vision of just how far the beautiful game has changed, look no further than the professions playing in this weekend's encounter between Dublin and Kerry.

In a year where the rank odour of corruption has toppled Fifa and the Olympics from their golden podiums, the oft-maligned but always steady GAA remains a cultural touchstone that delivers the goods on time, every time. While the air grows thicker with hellfire and damning allegations down Rio way, back on home ground the grannies and mammies will continue their buttering and baking in a thousand parishes across the land - all for a love of club and county that nothing can tarnish.

It's a world where the only killing to be made is the triumph of bringing the cup across the county bounds, and the only dope you'll find is sitting in the corporate box looking for a second prawn sandwich.

If our national obsession with football and hurling is built on the speed, style and agility of those players who can turn games with single-minded brilliance, it comes a close second to the match commentary that's often Oscar-winning in its hilarity.

"Now, listen lads, I'm not happy with our tackling. We're hurting them, but they keep getting up," remarked John B Keane on his only foray into junior coaching.

Or how about actor Joe Lynch's indelible definition of adulation: "I love Cork so much that if I caught one of the hurlers in bed with my missus, I'd tiptoe downstairs and make him a cup of tea."

It's also hard not to like this Offaly hurler's comment a week before a Leinster final against Kilkenny: "We're taking this match awful seriously. We're training three times a week now, and some of the boys are off the drink since Tuesday." That's almost as good as the anonymous Clare player who said: "Ger Loughnane was fair. He treated us all the same during training - like dogs."

Ireland may have changed beyond recognition since Michael Cusack and Maurice Davin put their GAA blueprint together on November 1, 1884, but the ethos at its core is surely a song that remains the same.

Like our culture and the craic, the GAA is now a global brand travelling in the diaspora's wake across Asia, Canada, Australia and the US.

Managing to neatly side-step the trends, fads and vogues of the decades it passed through, it has remained unashamedly wedded to the down-home locality it's thrived in - a fertile ground where comradeship and honour are the passwords learned from the under-7s upwards.

Commentator Mícheál O Muircheartaigh is known for his legendary gems from the sidelines: "Colin Corkery has made a Lazarus-like recovery from heart surgery. Lazarus was a great man, but he couldn't kick points like Colin Corkery."

Or how about this beaut: "Pat Fox is hurling well, but here comes Joe Rabbitte on his tail. I've seen it all now - a rabbit chasing a fox around Croke Park."

The multitudes from Kerry who'll travel up this weekend will likely arrive by air or car - a long way on from the legendary night trains that departed at 4am back in the 1950s.

It was the era of cigarette smoke and dawn whiskey, where Dingle fishermen spoke Irish in muted clusters, Kenmare farmers cycled through Moll's Gap in darkness and local TDs dripping hair oil settled planning permissions in the corner seats.

Regardless of the result, it's the being there that really matters. "I played in 10 All Irelands, and lost six of them, but so be it," said the greatest of them all, Mick O'Connell, earlier this week. "If I lost the 10 of them, at least I had the involvement."

Irish Independent

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