Teachers owed debt of gratitude
Crucial role in sport taken for granted by the Government and the public
Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan isn't attending any of the teachers' conferences this week.
It's customary for the minister of the day to address them but apparently it would be "inappropriate" this year because the incumbent will have no role in future policy since she won't be in Government if, and when, a new administration is formed.
Presumably, it remains appropriate to continue pocketing a full ministerial salary, including for this week when she will not be carrying out a function which, under normal circumstances, would be a priority.
Any wonder the public are cynical about politicians and politics? Ministers are in office or they're not but it appears that, in education at least, the current arrangement is semi-detached in terms of responsibility, while remaining firmly attached to full salary.
I mention it because this is the week when teachers have their say and since it's a pretty angry profession nowadays, nobody will be left in any doubt about the mood across all sectors.
I'll leave the specifics of that to others but I was struck by comments made by former Limerick hurler Niall Moran about the lack of acknowledgement of the work put in by teachers on school sports fields all over the country.
Moran and his fellow coaches steered Limerick's Ardscoil Rís to the All-Ireland hurling colleges 'A' final, where they lost by two points to Kilkenny's St Kieran's College on Monday.
He estimated that the teachers involved put in a minimum of 10 hours a week preparing the squad over several months, as part of the commitment to their school, their pupils and the GAA.
It's a common theme in all sports around the country, although since football and hurling have the broadest spread it impacts most in the many schools where Gaelic games predominate. Still, it applies to the many teachers who give their time freely to promote sport in their schools so they all deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated.
However, coaching sport does not count as part of the 33 hours per year of non-class contact requirement currently in place.
Many teachers are putting far more than 33 hours per month into extra-curricular activities, yet it's not formally recognised in any way.
Of course, the question arises why teachers should expect special treatment ahead of club coaches who also give their time freely after work.
The answer is simple; the relationship between teachers and pupils is special. It's an all-day arrangement, moving from the classroom to the pitch (or wherever other activity takes them) in an almost seamless transition.
The vast majority of people who play - or ever played - sport in school know how much effort teachers put into it.
I recall my own experience in Galway in the late 1960s/early 1970s when Johnny Geraghty, the famous All-Ireland three-in-a-row goalkeeper, Fr Colm Kilcoyne and Tommy Fahy, all wonderful teachers in Coláiste Seosaimh, Glenamaddy extended the day by coaching football, after which they took on another responsibility.
Since school buses were long since departed by the time we were finished on the pitch and no public transport was available, they packed those of us who lived a long distance away (over seven miles in my case) into their cars and drove us home two or three evenings a week.
They did it for no thanks or reward but because they regarded it as part of the school experience.
And without those lifts home, it would have been difficult for many of us to participate in sport.
Times may have changed but the basic principle hasn't. Teachers everywhere continue to contribute enormously to the fabric of Irish sport.
The GAA, in particular, has benefited hugely from the involvement of the teaching profession, not only in a coaching capacity but also in administration at all levels up to, and including, current president (Aógan Ó Fearghaíl) and director-general (Paraic Duffy).
What would happen the organisation if teachers stopped coaching in schools? And what if it extended to rugby, soccer and other sports?
Frankly, it would have a devastating impact at a time when encouraging youngsters to play sport is supposed to be high up the national agenda.
Yet, when teachers don their boots and head for the pitch after school, it's not considered worthy of any formal recognition.
Isn't it time the sporting organisations got together and lobbied Government on the issue? Otherwise, there's a serious risk that teachers will leave the coaching fields.
Farewell to 'Hands', an expert in his field
So now the GAA's heavenly fraternity has a call to make.
This world can't decide whether Meath's Paddy 'Hands' O'Brien, who died last weekend at the age of 91, or Kerry's Joe Keohane, who died in the late 1980s, was the best full-back of all time.
Paddy was chosen on the GAA's Team of the Century in 1984 but was replaced by Joe on the Team of the Millennium 16 years later.
Obviously, the switch had nothing to do with performances in the 1984-2000 period and was instead down to a change of selectors, with the second group favouring the Kerryman.
Perhaps the heavenly selectors will have a head-to-head contest to decide who is No 1 but, in any event, both will always be remembered as outstanding No 3s.
Paddy was the first of four brilliant Meath full-backs in a career that saw the Skryne man win All-Ireland senior medals in 1949 and 1954.
Watching him made a huge impression on a young Jack Quinn, who later went on to become a superb full-back too. He, in turn, influenced Mick Lyons, who was a role model for Darren Fay.
Essentially then, 'Hands' influenced Meath full-back play directly and indirectly for several decades.
Their exploits were expertly captured in Four Kings, a book written by Philip Lanigan, where Paddy explained how he got the famous nickname.
It arose from his high-fielding performance in the 1951 league final against New York in the Polo Grounds. So impressed was local commentator, 'Lefty' Devine that he christened him 'Hands', a name that remained with him.
Paddy's Requiem Mass will take place in the Church of Our Lady, Dublin Airport this morning (11am), followed by burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.
May he rest in peace.
Westmeath's defensive locks remain unpicked
A similar achievement in Division 1 would have attracted widespread attention but the Westmeath hurlers' remarkable defensive feats have gone largely unrecognised.
So let's salute them for playing six games in Division 2A without conceding a goal. They won the final last Saturday, beating Carlow by 0-10 to 0-8. They even managed to keep their net intact when losing to Carlow in Round 5.
You would think it all but impossible to avoid conceding a goal in seven hours of hurling so Michael Ryan's boys can be very proud of their tight security arrangements. Nor were they especially generous with points either, conceding an average of just 12.3 points per game.
Given the scattered nature of GAA stats, it's difficult to ascertain when a county last went six successive games without conceding a goal, so if anyone has another example, please let us know.
Obviously, that level of defensive miserliness involves several elements but the honour of being Westmeath goalkeeper for such an extended run fell to Paddy Maloney, who has been consistently reliable throughout the 2A campaign.
By any stretch of logic, Westmeath should now be looking forward to promotion but they face another barrier in the form of a playoff against Laois or Kerry, the bottom two in 1B who clash next Saturday.
Obviously, Westmeath will be in good shape for the challenge but could still lose, thus undoing much of their good work so far.
It's beyond bizarre that a team wins a division without conceding a single goal, yet has to successfully negotiate a play-off to be promoted.
As Kerry have shown this year, teams that come up from 2A can be competitive in 1B so why the artificial barrier to promotion?