Wednesday 16 October 2019

Josh Pray had every right to be at All-Ireland final


Josh Pray
Josh Pray

Darragh Clifford - Straight Talking

I always find this time of year a tad depressing, from a sporting point of view anyway. The hurling and Gaelic football championships have drawn to a close following last weekend's historic wins by Dublin's mens and ladies footballers, and now I'm faced with my winter of discontent with nothing but over-hyped Premier League soccer to endure.

The rugby World Cup will offer some respite, but the end of the GAA championships always marks the end of my sporting calendar. Next spring's National Leagues cannot come quick enough.

There was one weird footnote to the end of this year's inter-county season that is not sitting right with me, however.

The American comedian and social media star Josh Pray was the subject of some online abuse last week from GAA 'fans' who reckoned he shouldn't have been at the first Kerry v Dublin All-Ireland as he was preventing a 'real' fan from a golden ticket to the final.

Josh Pray shot to fame in Ireland over the summer for his hilarious reflections from watching hurling, football and camogie. He took a particular shine to hurling, and was firmly in the Tipperary camp for their All-Ireland final victory over Kilkenny.

Josh Pray has over 1.5m mainly American followers on Facebook. You cannot put a price on what this type of exposure was worth to the GAA and to tourism in Ireland. So it came as no surprise that Tourism Ireland invited Pray over to the first football final between Kerry and Dublin, where he watched the game from a corporate box in Croke Park.

But to some irate GAA 'fans', this was an outrage. Because to them, you cannot enter the hallowed grounds of Croke Park on All-Ireland final day unless you have the spirit of the GAA coursing through your veins and you have followed your beloved team from every pre-season game on a freezing January afternoon right through to the final.

This is a very naive outlook on where the GAA is at these days. In an ideal world, tickets to the final would cost a tenner and all loyal, so-called 'real' fans would automatically get a ticket. And to hell with the prawn sandwich brigade up in the fancy seats.

But that ship sailed years ago. An organisation the size of the GAA could not survive and thrive without catering for the corporate market. Like it or not, Josh Pray was one of hundreds of corporate guests who attended All-Ireland final who only had a passing interest in the game itself.

Tourism Ireland was well within their rights to do what they did - in fact it was a shrewd move, which has soured thanks to these 'real fans'.

But what constitutes a 'real' fan anyway? Do you become a more 'real' fan with every game you attend? Do you have to be a player, former player or club member to be a 'real' fan?

Personally speaking, I only attend a fraction of GAA games compared to when I was a teenager and in my 20s. Does that make me any less of a 'real' fan?

I don't go to games as much anymore largely due to work and family commitments - I have two young kids and often after a long week at work I just want to spend some time with them at the weekends, rather than disappearing again on a Sunday to watch a game of hurling.

But does my sparse attendance at games and the fact that I am not currently a member of a club make me any less of a fan? Maybe it does, who knows? It didn't stop me shedding a tear when my beloved Wexford lost in this year's All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary.

Just ask my Tipperary-born wife, who had to console me on the phone as I walked out of Croke Park feeling utterly crushed by the defeat.

But onwards and upwards. I cannot wait for my kids to be a little older, so I can start bringing them to games and hopefully I will get involved with the local club when they start playing under-age hurling and camogie.

And hopefully by the time we are all sitting together as a family in Wexford Park or Semple Stadium or Croke Park we will be surrounded by fans who know the true meaning of the GAA is community and inclusivity. And they will not begrudge an American comedian, who has done wonders for the promotion of the game Stateside, a ticket for the final.

Enniscorthy Guardian