'Mirror' reflects increasing divide
Published 30/08/2010 | 05:00
Frank Hogan is one of the first men to edge slowly towards the bottom steps of the Hill, with still 30 minutes left between our arrival and the minor semi-final.
His name may not sound familiar but his calling card is, the broad yellow-backed placard with 'John 3:7' written in capital letters.
We are standing beneath the nine-foot Perspex fence, which the authorities have crudely erected as a barrier whose psychological damage to the GAA community seems destined to far outweigh the physical problems it is supposed to prevent.
Frank nods his head sadly. Earlier this summer, in a sign of the increasing distance between those in authority and the ordinary men and women of this wonderful organisation, somebody somewhere decreed that Hogan and his religious message posed an incipient threat to Croke Park security.
So he was barred. Typical.
Mercifully, he chose to return when a simpering apology was proffered. But he still nods his head solemnly when he casts his eyes towards the towering symbol of official intransigence.
"You can hardly see a thing at all," says the Tipp-born veteran supporter who watches every game from the same vantage point; except now, with the raindrops slowly drying, the searing sun mocks his view.
"Was there really any need for it?" A stadium doctor and his female colleague request a photograph of Hogan and his famous banner. The doctor is equally not amused.
"I put Perspex in my doctor's studio and I was told I was crazy. If someone puts a light to that, it's gone in a second. But it's segregation and that's what worries me. Segregation has no place in the GAA."
The Perspex forms the top six metres of the fencing, the bottom third is metal mesh. The remnants of the old fencing remain a few metres in front of it, creating a natural barrier or, to the more enthusiastic, a perfect launching pad to attempt an audacious hurdle.
Hence, a moat-like effect is created. If one is caught short on All-Ireland day, perhaps it would be feasible to relive oneself in the manner of a herded animal which, given the crude nature of the discriminatory fencing, would perhaps be appropriate.
As the crowds begin to arrive, the majority of the ultimately few thousand on the Hill decide to locate elsewhere, where the view is clear and their nasty plots of "invading" can be becalmed.
However, understandably, as the throng increases, many are forced to watch through a clearly -- or rather unclear -- obstacle.
It's a novel way of charging €30 -- plus €3 handling charge -- for looking at yourself in an outdoor mirror.
In effect, it's more like being in one of those fairground Hall of Mirrors which thrilled you as a kid for all of, oh, five seconds. Only us poor fools on the bottom few steps are assailed by the quirkiest set of warped reflections since the first meeting of Weightwatchers.
All the while, a group of swarthy stewards, occasionally accompanied by burly gardai, stand with their back to the pitch and stare intently at the unwitting fools on the Hill.
Meanwhile, a few yards away, a mere four stewards patrol the front of the entire Cusack Stand, wherein a multiple of the Hill's population reside, and from whence equal excesses of pitch incursions have derived.
They watch the entire match, oblivious to what goes on behind them. "If they don't do their job on a certain day, well God help us," says the good doctor wisely.
The devout stares of the security folk almost inculcate a sense of paranoia in the recipient, as if one is being targeted as a potential hooligan, a point a worried farmer called James, from Down, takes up.
"Has anyone ever died from a pitch invasion?" he asks. "Yet people have died because of fences. Why can't they just do their jobs properly, instead of punishing their members?
"And I hate the way they've brought up Hillsborough and all these things. What is their point? The people who attacked that referee were in the expensive seats!
"What's wrong with coming on to the pitch to celebrate? Now it's at the stage that you're viewed as some sort of criminal if you want to come on, as if (we think) the right to celebrate is more important than the right to die. It's nonsense!"
His views are roundly echoed. The parade of GAA stars on the big screen, echoing the bizarre propaganda movie made by HQ are not representative of the common view of the common people.
And while the GAA have denied that stars have been paid to expound the right to come on to the pitch -- we shall ignore yet another example of the GAA's Orwellian use of language, "pitch invasion". Benny Coulter rectified that media imbalance; his views are shared more widely than officialdom would like to think.
The GAA has bigger issues to address. It's not something that the advertising gurus or the marketing ponytails will worry about but the illegality of Down's decisive goal also reflects poorly on the GAA's reliance on anachronistic methods when other, clearly more logical alternatives apply.
Our view of Coulter's goal was stymied; the Hall of Mirrors effect showed merely a corpulent cailin from Warrenpoint eating a tray of curry chips arguing with a Suncroft scallywag swigging from a naggin of vodka.
A video replay demonstrated the folly to 62,000 people, thus ruining Pat McEnaney's refereeing finale. Another point remained disputed as we watched the 'Sunday Game' in the Palace Bar. But, as Christy Cooney and the doom-laden emotional blackmailers will carp, nobody was injured. Nobody was hurt. And you can't put a price on that.
Nothing got damaged. Except the fundamental bond between the GAA hierarchy and so many of their members. Anybody, except those in the first five rows of the Hill and the two Canal End umpires, could see that ever so clearly. And guess what? You can't put a price on that either.