independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

John Greene: Kiernan goes in hard off the ball

Jerry Kiernan didn't hold back on Newstalk on Thursday night. Hours after the Government and the Irish Sports Council had announced that agreement had been reached with the Gaelic Players' Association on a new grant scheme for inter-county footballers and hurlers, Kiernan wasn't happy.

Several athletes had reacted to the news with disgust on Twitter. One of these was the outspoken 800m runner Thomas Chamney and Kiernan admitted that he was so annoyed by the news of the deal that he found himself in agreement, for once, with Chamney.

"I think that the GAA are the richest sporting organisation in the country and should be well able to look after themselves," said Kiernan of the grants.

(He then went on to admonish those athletes, including Chamney, who voice their opinions on Twitter – "Those boys who are tweeting on these things, tweet on everything," he said, "and they'd be better off concentrating on their athletics, although I can understand why this would cheese them off.")

Kiernan, who ran the marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, also delivered a withering assessment of Gaelic games, and Gaelic football in particular, a game which he said didn't have much to it, adding that most counties aren't any good at it.

Kiernan was dismissive too of the fitness of footballers and hurlers. "I watched some of the games over the weekend, National League games, and what struck me was how actually unfit the players were," he said, adding that it was common to see players "15 and 20 pounds" overweight.

Kiernan's argument was erratic but he was probed intelligently and given the platform to make his case. Our own Jamesie O'Connor was there too – questioning Kiernan, and disagreeing with his condemnation of Gaelic games as an inferior pursuit to elite athletics.

At times Kiernan was on solid footing. Like when he spoke about the commitment of athletes, and the at times insular nature of the GAA – and the reaction of some inter-county players to Kiernan's remarks helped make his point in this regard.

Kiernan thinks GAA players think they are fit, and think they train hard, but that they don't really know what hard training and fitness is about. Elite athletes, he feels, operate on a different plane. Jamesie, correctly, pointed out that he was comparing apples and oranges. Jamesie (pictured) said he had once trained 22 times in 21 days and it had stood to him because he won an All-Ireland. That's nothing, Jerry hit back, because one of the athletes he coaches could train as much as 42 times in 21 days. Apples and oranges said Jamesie again.

It was the kind of radio which has become the hallmark of the consistently brilliant Off The Ball show.

But in dismissing the Irish Sports Council's support of GAA players, and saying that whatever little money there is should be spent on elite athletes competing internationally, Kiernan was on less solid ground.

Firstly, whether he likes it or not (and he clearly doesn't), the GAA plays a huge role in Irish life and cannot just be discounted so easily. Secondly, and more importantly, where does the concept of participation, and grassroots sport, fit in to Kiernan's ideology? Surely when a government spends public money on schemes which promote increased participation in sport, then that is money very well spent. The key, as with anything, is striking the right balance.

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