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Off The Ball: Beyond the yarns, Joe Brolly's criticisms of GAA ring true

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Joe Brolly at a test day ahead of the recent Circuit of Ireland Rally: "It remains impossible to reconcile with the two public masks that Brolly wears" (Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE)

Joe Brolly at a test day ahead of the recent Circuit of Ireland Rally: "It remains impossible to reconcile with the two public masks that Brolly wears" (Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE)

Joe Brolly at a test day ahead of the recent Circuit of Ireland Rally: "It remains impossible to reconcile with the two public masks that Brolly wears" (Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE)

I headed off for west Kerry early Saturday morning amid typhoon conditions seeking extended escape from the recent sports news cycle. Money Mayweather; boring, boring Chelsea. I needed a break from it.

It was with some amusement then that I learned that none other than Joe Brolly was due to participate in a Q&A at the Féile Na Bealtaine arts festival just I touched down in Dingle.

There's no escaping sport in this country.

What did Brolly speak about in his roughly 90 minutes in conversation with Dara ó Cinnéide in Dingle?

Predictable things. Organ donation, becoming a sex symbol, the plight of the underage footballer, the failings of the GAA top brass, the failings of the GPA top brass, the three years his father spent interned at Long Kesh and too many anecdotes that ended in him tousling the hair of an opposing goalkeeper (one of which ended up in him getting a belt in the nose).

There were also impersonations. Impersonations of the 'D4 director' on 'The Sunday Game' the day of his Sean Cavanagh tirade, of Eamonn Coleman, of the Bomber Liston, and of his uncle, a chain-smoking forward who huffed on fags when the ball was at the other end. Is Brolly an entertainer or a prophet? It remains impossible to reconcile the two public masks that Brolly wears, especially as his Cassandra-like statements about the future of the GAA grow more fervent.

In Dingle, Brolly again painted a bleak portrait of an organisation lurching blindly towards a perverse kind of professionalism (a discussion of the naming rights of Croker - 'KFC Croke Park' - seemed to trouble many in the gathering).

Yet he also told a story about fudging the foul stats during a radio call after Mayo beat Dublin in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final which in turn helped set off a debate about Mayo's cynical fouling, which may have played some role in Mayo receiving two yellow cards early in the 2012 final, all of which contributed to Mayo, according to Brolly, briefly halting contact with RTE. All from one harmless error.

Beyond the messing, Brolly's strong criticism of the GAA rang true that evening, especially his worries about the demands on players in third-level education. He is a man entirely of this organisation, but one wonders how many Joe Brollys, and for that matter Dara ó Cinnéides, the GAA 'assembly line' will produce in coming years.

The only question Brolly refused to answer was one posed by a child: who's going to win the All-Ireland?

Irish Independent