Friday 25 May 2018

Joe Brolly: Colm Cooper will live to regret decision to enrich himself

Former Kerry footballer Colm Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile
Former Kerry footballer Colm Cooper. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

Sitting around with the other football pundits on The Sunday Game before the final programme of the year last Sunday night, we were shooting the breeze, when I asked: "Hey Gooch, why was I not invited to this testimonial?"

"I wasn't invited either," said Colm O'Rourke. Cooper blanched.

"I didn't realise things were so tight for you Gooch," I said, "I have a great network of charity connections. Why don't I organise a nationwide bucket collection for you outside GAA clubs to coincide with the testimonial?" The others were snorting with laughter.

It is a great pity Colm has done this. The point of the GAA is supposed to be volunteerism and community activism. The question is supposed to be, 'What can I do?', not 'What can I get out of it?'

This extreme example of self over community is merely a symbol of what has been happening to us over the last decade. While volunteers mow the pitches and scrape around looking for the funds to keep clubs going year to year, coaching underage teams and spending their precious time in club meetings, the elites are living in a world more akin to the English Premier League. With 50 tables being sold for the Colm Cooper testimonial at an eye-watering €5,000 per table, that is a quarter-of-a-million, even before the other money-raising activities planned for the night.

"Some of the money is going to charity," said Colm. Well, that is only designed to take the bad luck off it. Charity is a useful shield against criticism. All big companies now use philanthropy to combat bad publicity. The banks in Ireland are all over the GAA now, with fresh-faced footballers and hurlers their public face. 'We may have destroyed the lives of ordinary people, but here's a hilarious video of county players doing an egg-and-spoon race with school children, backed by AIB.'

Colm is beloved throughout the GAA world and so he should be. He is also extremely privileged, again, just as he should be. A good job will always be there for him. He has benefited and will continue to benefit from substantial endorsements. He has a lucrative punditry contract with RTE and a weekly newspaper column. These are no more than he deserves. But with all of this comes a responsibility. What he should have done was to give the entire proceeds of the night to good causes. This would set exactly the right example for others. What could be better than a night of celebration of his magnificent career, where three or four hundred thousand goes to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, or is split between a number of charities.

He could even have given a portion of the money to his home club, the club that put him where he is. The club where people whose names will never be known beyond the town boundaries, with their sweat and time, built clubrooms and pitches, raised money through the winter to keep things going, and have revelled in Colm's great successes as though he were their own son. The only thing they ever wanted was for Colm and the countless other kids who they have worked so selflessly for, to be able to express themselves. To enjoy something special, something bigger than any individual.

Instead, this is a rejection of the ideals of the GAA. Some will say, why shouldn't he make himself a quarter-of-a-million? As Joanne Cantwell put it to me yesterday on RTE radio, aren't the sponsors and banks and the rest making plenty from it. This is the GPA philosophy, an entirely capitalist one, where the question is, 'What's in it for me?' It is a legitimate view, but one which I fundamentally disagree with, and one which is the opposite of the professed ideals of the Association.

Colm will live to regret this. Part of it might be explained by the bubble elite players live in nowadays, which creates a sense of entitlement. Also, the fact that people are very reluctant to criticise our star players. But in the end, he is entirely responsible for his actions. As an icon of Irish sport, he could have set an example of altruism, but instead has chosen to enrich himself. What could and should have been a night the GAA could have taken great pride in, has instead become something cheap and self-serving.

In Robert Bolt's great drama, A Man for All Seasons, when Richard betrays Sir Thomas More to the King, in return for being made the Governor of Wales, so dooming Thomas to execution, he says to Richard, "For Wales? Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . but for Wales!"

What's the point in railing against it? Volunteerism is old hat nowadays. In the spirit of the times, better to give generously to the nationwide Colm Cooper bucket collection. Coming soon to a GAA club near you. . .

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