Thursday 18 January 2018

Comment: Colm Cooper has earned right to dine at top table - just like his critics

Money is everywhere in the GAA and the Gooch has spotted a gap in the market

Colm Cooper rushes to celebrate with manager Pat O’Shea after Dr Crokes’ victory over Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland Club SFC final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Cooper rushes to celebrate with manager Pat O’Shea after Dr Crokes’ victory over Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland Club SFC final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

Was thinking of heading to an event in Dublin. Black tie. Canapés. Fine wines. All in the company of one of our greatest Gaelic footballers, Colm Cooper.

All yours, for just €500 a plate. Yeah, really. And no, of course I won't be there.

Here's the thing, though. I don't have a major problem with it. I don't believe it runs contrary to the 'spirit of the GAA', because no such thing exists. The GAA, like music, like literature, like life even, is what you make of it yourself.

That hasn't stopped strong opposition to the venture to be held on October 27 in the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, hosted by Matt Cooper.

There's nothing like money to get people going. All in, this dinner is expected to rake in something in the region of €250,000 with an unspecified sum going to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and the Kerry Cancer Support Group.

There have been accusations of Cooper using the charities as some sort of a shield against criticism, while he personally profits. It's always instructive, though, to be choosy to whom you listen.

Recent literature has provided us with numerous examples of how threadbare the notion of GAA amateurism really is, most vividly explained in Michael Moynihan's 'GAAconomics.'

Going as far back as the 1947 All-Ireland final, played in the Polo Grounds in New York, Paul Fitzpatrick's brilliant 'Fairytale in New York' recounts how the victorious Cavan players arrived home to be feted with the Sam Maguire Cup, players having bulging wallets thrust into their hands.

More recently, Owen Mulligan's autobiography, 'Mugsy', told of the time he and an east Tyrone delegation were chauffeur-driven to the house of Barney Eastwood a few weeks after a Tyrone All-Ireland final win to be lavished with generosity by the Cookstown businessman. On their way out the door, the men were handed envelopes stuffed with cash.

Money has always been synonymous with success in the GAA.

Attempts by the association to investigate what they could do in this case was a desperate lunge for the stable door with the horse already warming down from its gallops.

In a recent 'We Are Ulster' Podcast, the GAA historian and respected writer Paul Rouse talked about it in terms of the "increasing professionalisation of Gaelic Games."

As ever, his argument was compelling as he took a scalpel to the delicate eco-system that is the GAA's official status on amateurism.

"You can dress it up whatever way you want. But the simple fact is that the Government of the Republic of Ireland pay fellas to play inter-county football and hurling," he said.

Rouse is right. But this testimonial stands alone as a commercial venture.

Former players have criticised the venture for a variety of reasons. They are entitled to their opinion but their platform - and their media earnings - was acquired through their excellence on the playing fields. They may correctly argue that they are engaged in work for employers.

And this, too, is entirely true; at some stage of the Gooch Testimonial, the room will hush, the lights will dim and a microphone will be passed to Cooper. His speech will be part of what everyone shelled out for.

And that is work; performed by him. His appeal is such that he can pull it off.

There are plenty willing to pay top dollar to eat dinner in his company. He is acquiescing. Supply and demand, the fundamentals of business.

Players enjoy their careers, then some accept columns, autobiographies or a seat at club dinner dances for financial gain.

It's a nod-nod wink-wink culture that allows the player to preserve a facade of humility.

All Gooch has done here is spot a gap in the market.

In the main, people are not buying tickets to this to raise funds for charities.

More likely it will be a night for corporate giants providing a kickback to suppliers and investors.

If I had one wish, it would be that Colm Cooper celebrate his football life at Dr Crokes in Killarney.

They would play some old clips, invite former team-mates and managers up to share a few yarns and enjoy a rambunctious Killarney night.

Compare that to the sterile atmosphere of a black tie event in Dublin - Dublin! - with the Gooch sitting uncomfortably in a monkey suit in the debt of everyone who forked out hundreds to be there.

It's not something that the average GAA person wants to be part of in any shape or fashion.

In the season of 'Wintertalk', money - the source of angst in the GAA since its formation - will always provide something to get your teeth into.

But will a single club volunteer walk away because of this venture on October 27?

Colm Cooper gained his reputation and his name through the supernatural feats he could achieve with a football.

If you want to, you can pay €5 at the gate and watch him still do his stuff with Dr Crokes.

Those who want him to be more, to stand for something more than playing football and winning, are welcome to mount their Unicorn and go for a spin around La-La Land.

If there are people willing to sit down to a dinner worth 100 times that, just to get touching the hem of the great man, then that's their own concern.

Good luck to him.

Crossmaglen's recent decline a lesson to all great teams

The best teams, the best athletes, are all  held together by a common trait - they absolutely despise losing. And when it happens, they look for scapegoats.

The famous Kerry writer, Con Houlihan, said once that his native county were expected to win the All-Ireland. Therefore, they never were too excited or giddy when it came to pass, but when they lost there was hell to pay.

So it is with little wonder that when you turn the pages of Colm Cooper's autobiography, you sense he felt that, under his watch, Kerry never really lost games, but gifted them to the opposition.

Perhaps we see something similar with Crossmaglen Rangers right now.

Losing hurts big teams more than others and makes them mad, leading to scenes such as those that occurred at the end of Crossmaglen's three-point defeat to Maghery last Saturday.

The six-times All-Ireland champions also failed at this hurdle last year when they suffered a shock defeat to St Patrick's Cullyhanna in what was only their second county championship defeat in 20 years.

When great teams go into decline, they can't sense it's coming. It just comes. We should bear that in mind when indulging in commentary around the current Dublin team right now.

Irish Independent

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