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Eugene McGee: Love-in with players' body to make GAA happy as Larry


A general view of yesterday's Evening Herald / Dub Stars football encounter at Fingallians GAA Club, Swords, Co Dublin. DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE

A general view of yesterday's Evening Herald / Dub Stars football encounter at Fingallians GAA Club, Swords, Co Dublin. DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE

A general view of yesterday's Evening Herald / Dub Stars football encounter at Fingallians GAA Club, Swords, Co Dublin. DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE

They say good news travels fast, but modern communication means bad news travels even faster.

I never believed that Larry McGann, my old friend from Knocknavanna Gaels, had mastered the art of texting until I got a message the other day: "It couldn't happen to a nicer fella," it read.

Word had got to Larry that I had lost an argument with an icy footpath and my leg was encased in plaster. But it is an ill wind that blows no good and Larry promised to call to see me "before the Christmas".

The festive season was always a time for linking up with friends and Larry is one of the old GAA stock when it comes to tradition. Sure how could he be an official of the Knocknavanna Gaels club for the past 48 years if he wasn't?

Larry has seen a lot of broken bones, including some of his own, set in plaster during his lifetime and I got the impression he was not overly concerned with my plight, but was more interested in talking about GAA matters .

"The best news I heard in 2009 was when the GAA put a halter on that GPA crowd and made sure they would have to toe the line like the rest of us and I have to compliment that Cork man Cooney because he had the cuteness to get it done.

"All the rows and disputes in Cork, Offaly, Clare, Limerick and Cavan over the years were a disgrace to the GAA, but it should be a thing of the past now with the GPA having to obey the same rules as the rest of us. It was nearly worth all the money they got from Croke Park to rein them in and let county boards run county teams like they always did.

"The top players are doing well at the minute and I even see a couple of county lads here in my own place with free sponsored cars for the last two years, even though the county team never even threatened to win a provincial championship -- never mind an All-Ireland.

"I was told once that the Dublin footballers did not get meals after games in Croke Park during their glorious days in the '70s, but divil a harm it did them.

"Maybe the present team should try the same approach!"

The trouble about having a conversation with Larry McGann is that when he gets going, it is nearly impossible to stop him -- a common enough trait with GAA officials. I was about to make several comments regarding the value of the GPA and how this love-in with the GAA would bring huge rewards financially to all concerned, but Larry had other crows to pluck.

"Look here, you are involved in the media for years, can you not do something to get the GAA to cut down the number of live games on television in summer time? Our own club in Knocknavanna is struggling at the best of times with all the young lads out of work and heading for America and Australia, but all this live television is killing clubs like us completely.

"We used to get a decent 'gate' for local club matches, but that is all gone and, anyway, people only talk about the Kerrys, Tyrones and the Big Boys all summer and lose interest in the club games.

"The GAA should shout 'stop' and cut the live games by half. They can watch them late at night if they want to.

"And for God's sake can you not try and stop this crowd who are trying to change the rules again? I'm all for progress in the game, the better fitness, the diets and the psychology even, but no game should abandon its own great skills like catching and long-kicking. Football is fine if the managers and coaches would insist on the real skills being preserved instead of one new gimmick after another.

"Some of my deceased team-mates from the Knocknavanna Gaels team that won the Junior championship in 1969 must be turning in their graves."

Larry McGann has never been a GAA whinger and was always able to see the bigger picture.

"The GAA has never been so strong and we all saw that in the 125 celebrations. I remember the 75th anniversary in '59 and the GAA wasn't a patch then on what it is now. They have used their money well, got rid of The Ban and other negative rules and, thanks to Liam Mulvihill, made the best use of Croke Park.

"I hear a lot of talk about rugby taking over in country areas, but the GAA can rise to that challenge without falling out with rugby people. I even went to a rugby game in Croke Park myself in 2009 and enjoyed it. They catch more high balls in rugby now than in Gaelic!

"What has always kept me going in the GAA is the local pride. No matter how poor Knocknavanna Gaels may be at any time, nearly everybody in the parish is interested in the teams. The few times we got to county finals, the whole parish was buzzing and no other sport locally can do that that. We have our AGM coming up shortly and as usual there is excitement about that -- they are after me again this time, but I will be OK."

It was past midnight when Larry decided to head off for Knocknavanna, but as a true GAA man he couldn't leave without a Christmas Box.

"I brought you a drop of our special brew from Knocknavanna. This is third-run liquor of the highest quality and is a great cure-all, in moderation of course. Do you remember years ago when the 'masseurs' used to use the first-run mixture as embrocation? It was strong enough to strip paint off a door, but many a great player swore by it.

"Of course, it wouldn't be scientific enough for the present-day gurus. And don't worry about the leg-break. As De Valera used to say when he lost an election: 'Beidh la eile ag an bPaorach'.

"Happy New Year to you and its Knock-navanna for the championship this year!"

Irish Independent