Saturday 20 January 2018

GAA scene in need of a few new characters

Characters, characters, where fore art thou characters?

Please excuse me borrowing, and murdering, a line from the great man but as 2014 gets under way I feel it's an apt way to raise the subject about a shortage of characters in the G.A.A. at present.

Firstly, to define a character I suppose. To me, a character is someone who stands out from the crowd. Someone with attitude, buckets of personality, someone who possesses idiosyncrasies that are adorable to some, yet revolting to others perhaps, someone who acts on impulse, is not afraid to trust their instinct, will say or do as they please (within limits obviously, there is a fine line between perverts and psychopaths and characters that shouldn't really be crossed).

A character is someone who will inspire people to go to matches to see him or her alone, to witness their antics, to be guaranteed a laugh or cheer or a boo at games where, like last weekend, cold January rain lashes against your face and the football or hurling might not be of the highest September standard. A character is a performer in many ways, aside from performing in the heat of battle, he or she will perform to the crowd, will entertain.

Names like Joe Brolly spring to mind when I mention characters.

Someone with a bit of arrogance, confidence, and a freedom from fear of upsetting the world and their mother by saying or acting how they feel. Roy Keane, perhaps, would be a non-G.A.A. character just for his glare alone. The Cork man packs more character into his icy stare than every G.A.A. player in Ireland at present. Bruce Grobbelaar jumps out from the past. His goalmouth antics back in the day had Liverpool fans'' hearts in their mouths a lot of the time but you gladly offered your Saturday afternoons to watch him in the hope of something happening, something out of the ordinary. Yes, games, be they G.A.A. or soccer or any other sport, are about skill and scoring and defending and all of that, but somewhere in there is room for fun and for boldness and for a bit of theatre.

Mayo's Kieran McDonald is as near to a character I've seen for some time on the G.A.A. fields, especially at inter-county level, but it was more his audacity and his hair that gives that impression than antics of any kind. But he was lovely to watch in terms of skill and attitude and confidence.

What brought this to mind was an incident in an O'Byrne Cup game last Sunday in Ashford in Wicklow between Wicklow and Carlow I.T. A worse day for football you'll hardly ever find and only the hardiest of souls turned up to watch what was an enjoyable game. Credit to every man who took to the field for both teams for serving up such a game in the conditions.

But, close to the end of the first half, Wicklow defender, Ciarán Hyland, broke down the wing and after a brief exchange of passes fired a low shot at the Carlow I.T. 'keeper. The shot was parried and the deflection fell to Wicklow corner-forward, Dean Odlum, who volleyed the ball to the roof of the net in a wonderfully instinctive action which I believe can't be taught or learned. Skill and ability like that is either in you or it's not. Goal of the month, if not more, for this tremendous effort. Check it out here -

The player in question, having scored this magical goal, merely got to his feet and returned to his position. And, before anyone leaps to Odlum's defence, this is in no way a criticism of the player who is making a welcome return to intercounty football for the Garden county, not in the slightest. My point is that, wouldn't it be lovely to see moments like that one in Ashford celebrated in style or with a bit of panache, a bit of chest beating.

Or wouldn't it be nice to hear G.A.A. managers speaking honestly and combatively prior to and after games, bringing a bit of banter to the occasion rather than the 'it'll be a game of two halves' or 'whoever wants it more will win' type of gruel that we are constantly served up with.

Clare's Davy Fitzgerald is loved in the G.A.A. because the man is a character, through and through. Pat Spillane, even though it pains me to say it, is a character, hence the huge advertising hoardings some time ago, inviting punters to 'Love him or Hate him'.

Nowhere in football or hurling at present, that I can think of, is there a real character playing the games.

Again, this is not a criticism but more a foolish lament, a cry to be entertained by more than the skills of the game.

I understand the efforts players put in, the sacrifices they make but wouldn't it be nice if someone, maybe in the manner of Robbie Keane, had their own personal goal celebration or who said something mad or hilarious or challenging after games.

Maybe the way the media works now is a reason for the uptight pre- and post-match interviews. Perhaps players and managers are concerned about something they say being taken out of context. And that's a valid concern. But the 'character' won't care about that. The 'character' is fearless.

For example, you know those day dreams you have over the years of you dominating on the county team, of starring at Croke Park or Semple Stadium in either, or both, codes.

When my day dreams were of me winning an All-Ireland in hurling (usually after being begged to play by the manager after he had spotted me in the crowd and realised my true ability), my goal celebration always resulted in me using the hurl as a guitar and my team-mates joining me in a mock guitar solo and then the whole stadium joined in.

(My fantasy usually ended with fair maidens throwing themselves at me as well but more in part two!).

How in God's name has no hurler ever considered using their hurl as a guitar? It's begging for it.

But maybe I'm asking too much. I wasn't much of a character myself in the playing days (apart from the strange hats and the knobbly knees and the constant vocal barrages from the goal line), so how then can I ask for more in the G.A.A.?

I suppose I just want to be entertained. I want my pie, and yes, I want to eat it too, with cream on top.

Wexford People

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