Sport Hurling

Sunday 23 October 2016

The ugly sister should take her place beside the prom queen

Tommy Conlon

Published 31/01/2016 | 17:00

Stock photo: Sportsfile
Stock photo: Sportsfile

So, the small ball is soon to take its rightful place among the nations of the earth. When all the paperwork is done and the council of international elders has contemplated its manifold wonders, hurling it is hoped will be admitted onto UNESCO's 'Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity'.

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The list has been compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation because, it says: "Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed onto our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts."

It delivered its first compilation in 2008. It included Kabuki theatre from Japan, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, oxherding and oxcart traditions in Costa Rica, indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead in Mexico, barkcloth making in Uganda, Andean cosmovision of the Kallawaya from Bolivia, and - to give it its full title - the Cultural Space of the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit of the Congos of Villa Mella, which you can find in the Dominican Republic.

In late December last the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht announced that the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage had been ratified by the Government. This formal ratification enables Irish groups to apply for inclusion on the global list. Three organisations had already expressed such an interest: the GAA for hurling, the uileann pipe club Na Píobairí Uileann, and the UCD folklore collection. The deadline for submitting their applications is March 26.

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys wished them well as they undertake this arduous mission. And naturally so do we all.

But one cannot help wondering if Croke Park is not guilty of some ill-advised parenting here. I mean, what about the big ball? No parent after all would want to be accused of favouring one child over another. But, not for the first time, the GAA mammy appears to be doing exactly that.

In fairness it is generally accepted that in any beauty contest featuring the siblings, hurling would probably get the sash and the tiara. But it doesn't mean that the parents should treat their plainer daughter any differently. Gaelic football has feelings too. Hurling might be the gorgeous blonde homecoming queen - daddy's favourite little girl, displayed in the prettiest frocks by mother. And Gaelic football has looks that some people might describe as "unfortunate".

But surely it is a fundamental parental necessity that all the children be equally loved. It can't be good for the self-esteem of one child to always be clothed in hand-me-downs while the other is trigged out in a new gúna and shoes every second week by her doting mammy.

If nothing else, it can turn the spoiled sibling into a stuck-up bitch. While the unattractive sister, always having to work harder, ends up with the best personality and the wider popularity.

Inevitably therefore, the big ball, despite its hefty proportions and frumpy appearance, is much more popular with the boys, and the girls, than its pin-up sister.

Hurling has a beautiful woman's complacency. It never made an effort because it always had its fans flocking around, swooning at its feet, showering it with bouquets. The homecoming queen stayed at home. She was always guaranteed her admirers in Tipp, Kilkenny, Cork and a few other dispersed locations. Basically she was a bit of a snob who has attracted generations of hurling snobs. It suited both parties: she could bask in their ardent devotion while they could keep her to themselves.

If hurling is haughty, Gaelic football is brassy and blowsy. She is less picky about her suitors; she offers her favours to all and sundry. And as history teaches us, this kind of lady will always be a popular sort of gal.

She is essentially a simpler sort of soul; not as complex or demanding or, indeed, up herself as the beauty queen that is hurling. Her charms may not be as rarefied, but they're a bit more accessible to the common man. She lacks the sophistication of her sister but compensates with a wholesome vulgarity. And the punters have always lapped it up, while her preening sister sniffs the air with disdain.

In truth, however, Gaelic football's self-esteem has never recovered from that childhood neglect. Despite all her popularity she is liable to look in the mirror of a morning and see an ugly mutt looking back at her. She remains damagingly self-critical, always giving out about her appearance, always that ten pounds overweight. Hurling, meanwhile, is the cat that never stops licking itself.

Croke Park could do with a few child-rearing manuals. If it persists with this kind of overt favouritism for one offspring over another, social services will soon be knocking at its door.

So before it's too late it should also be getting its other daughter ready for the UNESCO prom. The big ball should be allowed proudly take its place too among the Kirkpinar oil-wrestlers of Turkey, the weavers of the Ecuadorian toquilla straw hat, the Tar players of Azerbaijan, and the camel-coaxers of Outer Mongolia.

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