Saturday 17 November 2018

Points trump pints for Junker's Croker photo-op

From left, Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy, former Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin, European Commissioner Phil Hogan, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at Croke Park. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
From left, Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy, former Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin, European Commissioner Phil Hogan, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at Croke Park. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

As Jean-Claude Juncker and his delegation strolled onto the immaculate green pitch at Croke Park, the soundtrack of a rip-roaring All-Ireland final struck up to help simulate the atmosphere.

It wasn't quite like being there - but the president of the EU Commission looked highly impressed all the same.

His much-publicised sciatica prevented him from having a go himself - so instead he watched Henry Shefflin showcase his legendary hurling prowess.

But things went slightly awry when the Kilkenny legend then directed the sliotar to hit the post.

"And I meant to do that," laughed Shefflin.

Mr Juncker was then shown a Gaelic football and, noting the smaller size, he said: "I'm used to bigger balls." Amid laughter, a puzzled Mr Juncker said: "That was not a joke."

It has become a familiar theme that official guests are taken to Croke Park to marvel at the scale of the stadium, and to experience a gentle sample of the clash of the ash.

It is clear that Irish officialdom is making the gradual shift away from the customary shot of the esteemed guest holding a pint of Guinness, which is then beamed around the world firmly reinforcing the stereotypes of "boozy Irish".

Ever conscious of image, Leo Varadkar shows a definite reluctance to be pictured with pint in hand.

Hurling is uniquely Irish and crucially, in this health-conscious era, it is alcohol-free. So hurling has become the 'new Guinness photo opportunity' on trips such as these. Mr Juncker was clearly intrigued and there were many enthusiastic explanations of the basic rules from EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.

There was also some mischief afoot when Tánaiste Simon Coveney presented Mr Juncker with a Cork jersey emblazoned with the number '27'. The reference to the countries in the European Union did not go over his head. After receiving his gift, it was his turn to reciprocate, and one of his aides handed over an EU bag for him to present to Mr Coveney. "What is that?" demanded Mr Juncker - and when the reply came back from the aide that it was a tie, he groaned, saying: "You have no imagination."

Irish Independent

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