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Eugene McGee: Larry back to fight change in 'this great association'

Larry McGann has resurfaced and many GAA people will be happy about that. For younger readers, I should explain that I first came across Larry over 25 years ago.

Larry had been a player and mentor with his club, Knocknavanna Gaels, for 40 years at that stage and won a county Junior championship medal at full-back for them in 1979. He first contacted me to complain about all the changes that were happening in "this great Association", as he always referred to the GAA.

He was always a bit wary about how things were developing. He never really got over the abolition of the Ban in the 70s and, as a dyed-in-the-wool Fior Gael, he could never see any reason for changing that infamous Rule 27.

Over the years he has been a shrewd observer of GAA politics and was never slow to let me know about that. Larry's absence in these columns recently was because he headed off to Australia to attend the wedding of his youngest daughter Deirdre in Melbourne and took an extended holiday with 'the wife', Rosaleen.

Deirdre had been doing a steady line with a young lad who played for Knocknavanna Gaels but he lost his job as a plasterer, headed for Australia and Deirdre went after him. Larry was no stranger to emigration himself, having set off for London and a job with Mr McAlpine the week after the 1979 county final, along with half a dozen of his team-mates, most of whom never returned.

But the pull from home was always strong and, after 10 years, he returned to his beloved Knocknavanna.


Not surprisingly, the Gaels went into decline after 1979 and the high hopes of achieving senior status soon evaporated. By the time Larry returned to his native parish, times and the GAA had changed -- but his enthusiasm had never waned while abroad. Within a year, he was elected honorary secretary of the club and has been an ever-present figure of authority ever since.

For many years Larry had full control over the club simply because nobody else was interested in being an officer. Then the GAA nationally began to get more organised and things like leadership courses, coaching courses, Scor competitions, women's football and the like came about and suddenly Larry found there were people trying to oust him.

"I blame the free education for a lot of the trouble," Larry often told me. "The young crowd were all off to these new third-level colleges and picking up fancy ways of doing things in the GAA that had never been necessary in Knocknavanna.

"For example, physiotherapists began turning up at our games with medicine bags, sprays, buckets of ice and all sorts of so-called cures. Now, in my playing days we had Tommy 'Rubber' O'Regan, a former Army man from Kerry who looked after players' injuries, and I can tell you there were far less injuries than we have in the club today.

"He always had a bottle of first-run poteen in his little bag, which he mixed with various other liquids, and the 'rubs' he gave would have your hair standing on end going out the dressing-room door. Sure we never had any problems with cruciate injuries, hamstrings, metatarsal fractures or the like.

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"And Tommy never charged a penny for his services except for an odd free pint after a game in the local Eagle Bar."

Larry was in regular communication with me over the years, querying some of the many modern GAA initiatives, and I often recounted his problems, including the time he was ousted as club secretary after 15 years of unbroken service.

An indication of his anger at that decision was that his wife Rosaleen stopped washing the club jerseys thereafter. Anyway, Larry is back after his extended break and is anticipating the upcoming AGM of the club, which is running a bit late because of all the bad weather.

"The woman who ousted me in the previous coup has gone off to live with a Polish guy and will not be seeking re-election so I'm now on election alert -- something which is second nature to me by now," says Larry.

"Many of the young bucks who helped oust me some years ago -- with rings in their ears, noses and tongues and Paul Galvin-type jeans -- have hightailed it off to foreign lands and I am in a stronger position now that these 'radicals' have departed.

"It is going to be a tough few years for Knocknavanna, like all GAA clubs. We were all spoiled in the past decade when everybody was awash with money -- most of it the banks' of course. Against my wishes, we forked out €100 cash three times a week for a lad from an outside county to train the team.

"He was a broken-down former county player -- but he was worse than useless. At least now that the money has dried up and the weekly lotto has been cut in half, there will be none of that carry-on this year and I am hoping to persuade Jamesie 'the Farmer' Casey, who was the youngest player on that great 1979 Junior team, to run the team.

"He has a winning record too because Knocknavanna Gaels have not won any championship since that historic day in 1979," Larry points out.

"I saw on the internet in Australia where you were on about the GAA's winter ban on training and it amused me. All my life I was trying to get young people to play Gaelic and now it turns out that the GAA itself was stopping lads from playing and training. But doing away with access to the pitch in Croke Park after All-Ireland finals really got me mad while I was away -- is nothing sacred anymore in this great organisation?"

Yes, Larry McGann is back alright !