Monday 5 December 2016

Joe Brolly: Dream final? Dublin and Kerry bask in the sun while the rest of us shiver

Joe Brolly

Published 20/09/2015 | 10:00

David Moran could have a big say in today's game
David Moran could have a big say in today's game
Success-starved Fermanagh applaud their supporters after annialation by Dublin at Croke Park

I was one of the club's volunteer umpires for our annual under-10 tournament last Sunday. As a St Brigid's attack mounted, I got myself into a perfect position behind the post, in line with the kicker, to judge whether it was a point. Because they were under 10s, they were using the portable goals with the small posts, so it isn't easy to be sure when a ball is kicked high. It was close, but I couldn't be sure, so I waved it wide.

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"Do the thing fair, Brolly, you cheating b*****d," screamed a middle-aged woman who had appeared beside me a few moments earlier. "It was f***ing wide."

A few seconds later, the penny dropped. "I'm sorry about that Joe." Then, the words that send a chill through the spine of any underage coach or official. "That's my son playing. I'm just looking after him." I looked over at the young keeper, who was cringing.

For what it is worth, St Brigid's ended up playing a superb Glenullen team in the final. In a fantastic game, Glenullen came through by a few points. At the final whistle, their coach, my old friend Giles McNicholl, danced across to his troops punching the air with delight, and why wouldn't he? Our lads, meanwhile, were all sobbing like contestants on The X Factor until I snapped at them "Quit yapping boys, it's embarrassing." At which point the tears were switched off.

So when I hear today's game described as the dream final, I ask myself, whose dream? Not the angry lady behind the umpire, nor the Glenullen coaches. Nor any of the players on the 32 teams who took the field last Sunday at St Brigid's.

Nor me.

Derry v Galway might be a dream final. Or Antrim v Cork. Or Leitrim v Offaly. Instead, we continue to tolerate an entirely dysfunctional system. A few teams at the top get another day in their endless sun while the rest of us shiver in the cold. As the French queen Marie-Antoinette said when the starving peasantry turned up at the palace begging for bread, "Let them eat cake".

It is amazing what we are all prepared to put up with. Even as the prospects for around 28 counties worsen every year, we put a brave face on it and pretend that everything is fine.

So, instead of talking about our own teams and enjoying their adventures, we find ourselves endlessly discussing Kerry and Dublin, and sometimes Mayo or Donegal. And when a plucky Fermanagh get annihilated with honour in Croke Park, we say "Isn't it fantastic?", and put it forward as evidence that the championship structure is fine.

And in the manner of people on a plane who have survived a crash-landing, the Fermanagh team dance a merry jig on the pitch in front of their jubilant support. A crumb of cake once a decade is enough for them. Submissive lot, us Paddies.

On Sunday past at St Brigid's, like all under-10 tournaments, all of the teams had an equal number of pool games before being seeded into three different tiers. So, by 2.0, there was a cup, a shield and a plate competition, all going full swing, sidelines packed. If clubs organised underage tournaments along the lines of our senior inter-county Championship, they'd soon vanish.

Imagine starting with a blank canvas today and coming up with the current Championship format. You'd be ridiculed. You'd be told it was elitist, dysfunctional, entirely unfair and the opposite of the GAA's primary goal of participation.

Since the heart of the GAA is tribalism, our interest is in our own. We can talk about Kerry or Dublin, but we do so in the same way we might discuss Manchester United or Liverpool. So, the nation must endure Darragh Ó Sé and the boys earnestly droning on about the finals they lost and Sam Maguire being part of the rhythm of life in Kerry.

We don't give a damn about that. It's a private party. What we want to do is follow our own team. To see them playing in meaningful competition. To enjoy the adventure. As it is, by July every year we are reduced to saying to each other "Do you think Kerry will do it?", or "Do you fancy the Dubs this year?"

Funny thing, the winners of the shield (Bredagh GAC) and the plate (St Paul's Belfast) last Sunday played with the same passion and celebrated with the same joy as the winners of the cup. That's the thing about the GAA. We love our own.

Kerry v Dublin? Dream final my arse.

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