We know and trust and help each other, even though we don’t know each other at all
Facebook was down for six hours last week, and it was the main item on news bulletins around the world. The author Stephen King said this was “the definition of addiction”.
Without the GAA, our world would be as boring as everyone else’s, even if most modern punditry and managerial interviews are on a par with standing up in public and reading from a dictionary.
The funny thing is that the people who are paid to talk about the game nowadays are as dull as a Tory party conference, but the people who aren’t, are great fun with it.
I was chatting with a Tyrone friend of mine from Drumragh last week about the All-Ireland final. He said: “The problem with the Mayo team is that Mayo people are far too nice. They are far too tolerant. If we had a curse in Tyrone, we would have smothered those pair of old boys long ago.” The Tories would call that “compassionate conservatism”.
Out west, as the fallout over Mayo’s inevitable All-Ireland final loss rumbles on; they are looking for a new chairman. And to demonstrate that this is serious, that they are finally intent on transforming the culture, the board has announced they have appointed a solicitor to chair the process.
I am flattered to see that I am 5,000/1 with Paddy Power to get the job. To put this in perspective, Joe Biden is 1,000/1. John Delaney is 3,000/1, but not even John would want this job. Louis Walsh, the pop svengali, is 900/1. I was surprised to see Aidan O’Shea is 10/1, I thought he already was the chairman.
I was at the St Martin’s club, Desertmartin recently to do their juvenile prize-giving. There isn’t a single Catholic living in Desertmartin town itself.
The GAA community is a rural enclave at the foot of Sliabh Gallion Braes in the Sperrin mountains, about four miles outside the town, where the poor land is. ‘Sliabh Gallion Braes’ was the Derry poet Seamus Heaney’s favourite song. He invited my father to sing it over in Lavey in McCormick’s house for his 70th birthday. “As I went a walkin’ /with my dog and with my gun/I’ve rambled these mountains/for joy and for fun/but those days they are now over/and I am far away/far away from you bonny, bonny/Sliabh Gallion Braes.”
St Martin’s community is like an Amish settlement. Two excellent pitches. A terrific clubhouse and all the rest, in a community with a population of 700 people.
When I arrived, I got the grand tour from Pat Kidd and some of the other club elders. Young and old mixing. At least a dozen traditional musicians. Gary McLaughlin tending to an enormous barbecue. The pitches filled with happy sounds as kids ran and kicked football and tumbled about without a care.
Pat made an announcement from the stage. “Just to remind all members that any adult sneaking drink to an underage member will be suspended from the club.” I asked Pat, “Did you have much bother during the Troubles?” He said: “Very little bother Joe, apart from the odd pipe bomb.”
Which reminded me of the Ministry of Agriculture building which used to be on Dungiven Main Street. One of the ways Liam Hinphey stimulated hurling in the area when he arrived up from Kilkenny and married my aunt Mary K was to bring legendary club teams from all over Ireland to the town, all through the Troubles.
In October 1971, Moneygall, James Stephens and a few other teams travelled to the town for a weekend tournament. After the first round of games on the Saturday, there was a big night of music and fun in the clubhouse. The place was packed. Eddie Keher was there.
A fresh-faced Brian Cody was sipping his stout, enjoying the music and the crack. The fearsome ‘Fan’ Larkin, Kilkenny’s legendary corner-back, was holding court. At around midnight, a bomb went off on the Main Street, destroying the Ministry of Agriculture which was just behind the club. The walls of the clubhouse shook and the guests were showered with dust.
My father, who was on the guitar, midway through the chorus of ‘Finvola, the Gem of the Roe’, took the mic and asked one of the Hassons to go out and take a look.
He appeared back a minute later and shouted up to the stage, “It’s alright Francie, it’s only the Ministry of Agriculture.” Whereupon, to the bewilderment of our southern visitors, who were sheltering under tables, ‘The Gem of the Roe’ resumed as though nothing had happened.
The St James club in Aldergrove have had the odd bit of bother themselves over the years, which is why they have a heavy steel front door at the entrance to their club rooms.
On Saturday, my under 20s were down to play them in the championship. I was standing chatting with their manager at the steel door, when it swung open in the wind and nearly took the head off me, knocking me to the ground. The blood came gushing down my face like in a Tarantino movie.
Luckily, their first aid man, a paramedic, had come down to replenish the medicine cabinet in the club and stitched me up there and then, in time for me to take the warm-up. On Sunday morning I got a text from him. “Joe, just checking how your head wound is? Are you feeling drowsy at all?”
This worldwide brotherhood is priceless. We know and trust and help each other, even though we don’t know each other at all. Outsiders don’t get it. How could they? Sigmund Freud said: “The Irish are the one race for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.” As the next chairman of Mayo, I respectfully agree.