Tuesday 21 January 2020

No place for logic when GAA's values are at stake

Moving replay to Limerick went against association's principles

Limerick Gaelic Grounds ahead of the Semi-Final replay between Kerry and Mayo
Limerick Gaelic Grounds ahead of the Semi-Final replay between Kerry and Mayo

John Greene

It was ironic that in a week in which the GAA was held up as a shining example of a community-based organisation at work, its leadership chose to turn its back on some core values.

The decision to play last night's All-Ireland semi-final replay in Limerick's Gaelic Grounds was wrong, no matter what way you dress it up. Nor does it matter that we were served up such an incredble game of football, even more thrilling than last Sunday's drawn encounter. That has nothing to do with the rights and wrong of this debate.

Yes, it's a bit rich of people to complain about the college football game going ahead yesterday because that ship has sailed. There is a commercial element to the Croke Park stadium which members have been happy to go along with when it suits. As it happens, it was a great coup to attract this spectacle - which is what it was yesterday - to Dublin. It gave great exposure to the country and brought in plenty of money, and plenty of goodwill too.

But the simple fact remains that the replay should have been fixed for Croke Park next Saturday evening in the first place.

An often-repeated observation by an American writer came to mind as the row over the decision raged last week: logic is the art of going wrong with confidence.

The GAA used plenty of logic to back up its decision to move the game out of Croke Park, all of which was perfectly reasonable and, well, logical: Croke Park wasn't available because of the college football game, a lucrative event which made good money for the Association; next Saturday had to be held in reserve in case today's game between Dublin and Donegal ends level; there has been significant investment in upgrading provincial venues and therefore more high-profile games need to be fixed in those grounds; there is no hard and fast rule that All-Ireland semi-finals have to be played in Croke Park; the Gaelic Grounds is a fine venue, well capable of hosting a fixture of this stature, and well fit to accommodate all those supporters who wanted to attend.

All perfectly reasonable arguments which - despite Mayo's best efforts - are pretty hard to refute. Except, as the saying goes, logic will never learn that life rarely follows the script.

There are times when there is simply no good reason why something is so, other than the fact that it is so. And this is one of those times. The GAA was wrong to move the game out of Croke Park because, when you cling to certain notions and beliefs about ethos and principles, about the value of what you stand for and the nobility of your purpose, which the GAA does, then there are times when there is no place for logic. There is a different kind of right and wrong. There is a different kind of value system.

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So, there is no good reason why All-Ireland semi-finals and finals are played in Croke Park, but it is absolutely right that they are. Croke Park holds a certain resonance in the GAA, it has a significant historical and traditional value but, even more important than that, there is a huge sense of ownership among members of that stadium which has long been embedded in the fabric of the Association. Every member of the GAA feels he or she is welcome in Croke Park in a way that is quite unique.

A colleague is fond of saying, "when you are explaining, you are losing", and it felt like that last week as Liam O'Neill and others sought to justify a bad decision.

It was a pity, too, that O'Neill felt he had to dismiss the dissenters in such blunt terms when he said last Monday: "The history of it is that people initially question, then they accept the decision and get on with it." In other words, shut up and get on with.

He added: "I'm sure that Mayo are long enough in the game at this level to know that it's in their best interests to get on with it and play the game and qualify for the final and hopefully, for them, end their barren spell." Except it wasn't just Mayo who had spoken out, there was a groundswell of support for their stance and it was unfair to portray it otherwise.

On Thursday, as part of the events which were being staged around yesterday's college football game, Croke Park hosted an international Unesco symposium organised by three experts in the field of youth studies, from NUI Galway, University of Ulster and Penn State. During the symposium, Professor Mark Brennan, who is Unesco's chair in Rural Community, Leadership and Youth Development at Penn State, said other countries could learn a great deal from the GAA.

"The Gaelic Athletic Association is a true grassroots organisation," he said. "It empowers, involves and invigorates, not just individual young people but their families and wider communities. We hear a lot about the 'fabric' of society. Organisations such as the GAA are examples of a wonderful type of clever stitching which can make this fabric strong and support young people as they develop. Sport has such potential to strengthen society around the world by engaging young people, and nations can learn from each other about what works best."

Hopefully, the GAA can learn from this mistake, and live up to the reputation it has earned.


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