Wednesday 18 September 2019

Joe Brolly: Dysfunction and humiliation summed up in one hypocritical letter

Two matches have been called off today
Two matches have been called off today
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

I've been in Omagh over the past month, defending a young man from Derry city charged with taking part in a rebel training camp in Syria. 'Paddy Jihadi' the tabloids call him. Or 'Eamonn of Arabia'.

The prosecution is grossly hypocritical. British special forces are on the ground in Syria, assisting the rebel alliance against the Assad regime and ISIL, both of whom have been repeatedly accused of war crimes by the UN.

We showed the jury pictures obtained by the BBC of heavily armed SAS units in Syria. The UK government has been - according to a wide range of internationally respected bodies - resourcing the rebels with weapons and funds and training. But of course they won't admit it.

"Are the SAS operating in Syria, in support of the rebel alliance?"

"We do not comment on such matters."

"Is the government funding these rebels?"

"Her Majesty's government does not fund rebels."

On Tuesday of last week, after a second lengthy trial in the space of six months, where the prosecution threw the kitchen sink at my client, a second jury was also unable to reach a verdict. There will not be a third trial.

Hypocrisy has become the norm in society.

During the trial, I spent a lot of time hanging around Omagh, mostly in Wee John's cafe beside the court.

The Tyrone people are not happy with hypocrisy either. In this, they are no different from GAA folk in the rest of the country. A huge amount of money has been raised by Club Tyrone, here and in the US. Their enormously expensive Garvaghey centre would not be out of place at Real Madrid. It is a white elephant, a monument to the dysfunction that is the modern GAA.

Like elsewhere, the county game dwarfs the club game, making it an afterthought. County football is a black hole, swallowing everything in its path. So Tyrone (having kept their club championship on ice while a tiny county elite train at Garvaghey, and play five games in four months) are currently running it off like the Kilmacud Sevens. In the race to get it over and done with, some club teams are playing two games in three days. With fixtures being scheduled at short notice, club players do not know when or where their next game will be. Players travelling from England are cancelling flights, then rebooking them.

The dysfunction, and humiliation, is underlined by the fact that Tyrone senior championship games are being played . . . wait for it . . . in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh. So, the GAA folk of Ardboe and Omagh had to travel to another county last week to see their teams play in one of the biggest clashes of the championship. On Tuesday past, the people of Pomeroy and Clonoe had to go there to watch their lads battle it out. Talk about rubbing their noses in it.

Only Omagh has lights, in spite of the vast amounts of money raised by Tyrone's Gaels over the past decade. If it rains, Omagh is unplayable. On the other hand, it has a press box that cost £800,000. Garvaghey, where Bear Grylls could make an episode of his extreme survival series, has no spectator facilities to host a championship game.

The Tyrone county machine is the only thing that really matters. Like a Premier League soccer team, it has been rebranded 'The Tyrone Academy'. At the start of the 2017 season, 'The Tyrone Academy' wrote a letter to every club in Tyrone concerning the minor and under 17 squads, that sounds like something you might receive from a PR company. Two people sent me on the letter, both with the warning 'you didn't get this from me'.

Starting with the words, "We wish you all a happy new year", what follows would be hilarious if it were not so serious. The letter sympathetically points out how conscious everyone at the Academy is about the demands on underage players and of the Academy's desire to "avoid unnecessary pressure being applied on young players". A lot of sugar is poured, fine rhetoric of the Aogán Ó Fearghaíl type about the clubs being the lifeblood of the association.

My favourite bit of hypocrisy is: "We reinforce to players that your club is of paramount importance - a player begins with the club and ends with the club, and for that reason we insist that players wear their club jersey to training."

Why didn't anyone else ever think of that? Worried about injuries, burnout, elitism, insufficient time to study or work, the increasing irrelevance of the club? Never mind. The Tyrone Academy, backed by Club Tyrone, has found the solution: WEAR YOUR CLUB JERSEY!

The punchline of the letter is in the small print. To ensure that the clubs remain the priority, the letter continues: "The county minor squad will only have pitch sessions on Mondays and Thursdays with a gym session on Saturday morning, and to minimise disruption, the under 17 squad will mirror this schedule."

This doesn't take into account matches and challenge games, which means effectively a four-day-a-week county commitment for 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, starting in January.

The rest of the letter is full of the same bullshit. For example, it says the training and match schedule for the two squads has been designed "to avoid unnecessary pressure on young players" and that the Academy "wants to work closely and in co-operation with clubs and schools to manage the training loads". That's a full three days in the week (outside school and travel hours) for club football, school football and life.

This is not an attack on Tyrone. It is an attack on a dysfunctional system that is destroying the association nationwide. A system where hypocrisy and rhetoric has replaced honesty, and where the clubs are only feeder teams for the county.

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