Saturday 1 October 2016

'Politics is the last thing on anyone's mind' - Gerry Adams' son Gearoid on leading his native Antrim

John Campbell

Published 04/01/2016 | 10:50

When he received his introduction to Gaelic football in the modest surroundings of Dunville Park on Belfast's Falls Road along with the rest of his classmates from St Finian's PS back in the 1970s, Gearoid Adams little dreamt that this would prove the precursor to a lengthy playing career at club and inter-county level.

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It was at the behest of Kerry native Bro Christopher that the young Gearoid took his first faltering steps in a sport that has since played an integral part in his life.

Now, a decade after calling time on a 13-year career in the Antrim jersey, Gearoid has just carried out his first competitive assignment in his new role as joint manager alongside Frank Fitzsimmons when the Saffrons suffered a rather demoralising defeat against Derry in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup yesterday.

From making his debut against Cavan in the Ulster Championship until his farewell appearance in 2005, his skill, commitment and sportsmanship underpinned his value to a team that he still concedes were underachievers.

Growing up in west Belfast amid the turbulence of the Seventies and Eighties may have presented its own challenges but Adams, even at a young age self-effacing and thoroughly grounded, quickly set out his personal sporting and professional aims.

Today this supremely fit father-of-four stands on the threshold of a further sporting goal in the managerial sphere fortified by the experience he has gained on the field of play - and bolstered by an air of independence that has served him well.

After all, when you are an only child and your dad just happens to be Sinn Fein president and one of the most recognisable faces in Europe, the natural assumption would be that you might find the spotlight straying more often than not in your direction.

Not so in the case of Gearoid, though. His academic prowess has led him to his current post as a busy head of PE and sport at St Louis Grammar School in Ballymena, and the daily commute from his home in Belfast as well as family responsibilities ensure that political or other distractions are quickly sidelined.

His love of teaching is obvious, never better exemplified perhaps than when outlining what he views as a priority issue in primary schools right now.

"There is legislation in place to ensure that obesity is confronted in schools by pupils engaging in gymnastics, dancing, athletics and other forms of exercise but this is not being adhered to everywhere," he maintained.

"If I were ever to be appointed Minister of Education, this is something that I would insist on in schools. I have always believed in the theory of a healthy mind in a healthy body, and if children are guided along the right lines in relation to exercising at primary school level then they will maintain this when they go to grammar schools and maybe for the rest of their lives."

His wife Roisin is a teacher of art at Colaiste Feirste and the couple's four children - Drithle (16), Luisne (10), Anna (6) and Ruadan (1) - make considerable inroads into what Gearoid has considered up until now to be his spare time.

"That has all gone by the board since I took on the Antrim job," he said.

"It's all about training sessions, meetings and matches.

"Antrim's priority must be to get out of Division Four. That's a big ask, of course. Even though I played for the county for a long time, I enjoyed my proudest sporting moment when I won an Antrim championship medal with St John's. They have always been my club and I was proud to serve them."

In an era in which the GAA in Ulster is taking bold strides to reach out to other communities - Armagh legend Jarlath Burns recently extended the hand of friendship to the Orange Order - Gearoid believes that everyone has a part to play in this.

"The Ulster Council is to be commended for the initiatives they have launched in this area. I think that people follow more than one sport anyway and the GAA door is open to everyone. It's great to see more openness and cross-fertilisation between communities because sport is a great bonding influence," he said.

An avid sports lover, he believes that Ulster has provided its share of sporting heroes in past decades.

"I think that people like George Best, Willie John McBride and Peter Canavan are absolute icons and have done so much for the province," he said.

"I admire them all greatly. They have brought great credit to themselves and the various teams for which they played."

If sport tends to dominate his life, then there is room too for music and reading - two of his interests away from the playing arena. A recent excursion to attend a U2 concert in Dublin reignited his passion for a band who have rarely been off his radar.

And he did not let the recent glut of sports book launches pass unnoticed.

"I am into sports autobiographies and I am currently reading those of former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and ex-Kerry player Tomas O Sé. I am particularly fascinated by the O Sé book because he played for Kerry in the same position I played for Antrim, so it is giving me a great insight as to how he went on to achieve his phenomenal success."

While it is said that sport and politics seldom mix, there are areas in which they are perceived to overlap.

"I know that a number of people have an issue with the way in which some GAA grounds are named after republicans but in many instances it is a case of the memory of former club players or officials being commemorated," he pointed out.

"I think clubs feel they are doing justice to the memory of these people in this way. I don't believe they are trying to be provocative. Besides, if you look at the main venues in Ulster such as the Athletic Grounds, St Tiernach's Park, Celtic Park, Healy Park or Pairc Esler, none of them are named after figures of any political persuasion."

His father's political stature may continue to bring him plaudits and brickbats in equal measure but Gearoid is adamant that he himself has remained unscathed from any fallout.

"When you are engaged in the intensity of inter-county football and all that this entails in terms of preparation, hard work and self-sacrifice, politics is the last thing on anyone's mind," he said.

"I have never felt victimised in any way because of my father's position. He is an avid Antrim fan and rarely misses a match, whether the county is playing football or hurling.

"I know that the word 'sledging' has crept into the GAA vocabulary of late but, happily, I have never been the victim of it either on or off the field."

Indeed, his father's quirky sense of humour as is evidenced in his avalanche of daily text messages is a source of amusement to Gearoid and his family.

"The children, like all children, are world authorities on texting and tweeting and they think it is a real hoot when my dad tweets them. I honestly think that his tweets reflect his personality.

"I know that politics is a serious business for the most part but he does lighten up and we enjoy a good laugh together.

"Before Twitter was heard of my dad was wisecracking and joking and he has simply transferred this aspect of his lifestyle into the Twitter arena. It's all harmless stuff, really, and it brightens the day."

But nothing will brighten his own day more than to see Antrim emerge as a major football force.

When the county reached the Ulster final in 2009 only to be beaten by Tyrone, it was thought that they might build on the progress that had been made.

The Championship odyssey of that year - they were narrowly beaten by eventual All-Ireland champions Kerry in the Qualifiers - was to prove another false dawn, however.

"That's the trouble with Antrim, just when you think they are going to do something they let you down," Gearoid conceded.

"I have experienced the feeling often as a player so I know how the fans currently feel. I just hope that we can get a bit of consistency going in terms of our results and maybe give the county a lift."

He may have succeeded in avoiding the spotlight in the past but there is no doubt that Gearoid would be happy to bask in the euphoria of any future Antrim success - and the odds are that dad Gerry would be right there alongside him.

Belfast Telegraph

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