Monday 19 March 2018

Off The Ball: Polarising our national games sending out the wrong signal to kids

Colm Cooper, Kerry, in action against Johnny Cooper, left, and Jack McCaffrey, Dublin
Colm Cooper, Kerry, in action against Johnny Cooper, left, and Jack McCaffrey, Dublin

My ears perked up listening to the 'Sunday Game' this week as soon as I heard the line that football is "back on top". On top of what I'm not quite sure, but apparently the charge is that hurling is in competition with football.

Granted, 'hurling people' have almost run out of superlatives to describe the most open of championships and we have a tendency to be loquacious when it comes to describing the ancient game.

But GAA people will tell you that Dublin versus Kerry was a joy to watch. It was the type of football that facilitates genius.

We all saw it and we all, collectively, in the same moment, the length and breadth of the country were momentarily united in asking the same question: "Jesus, did you see that?'' in response to the Gooch's retreat into the pocket in front of Ger Brennan before splitting the Dublin defence in half for Kerry's first major. That's not divisive. It's for everyone who wants it.

Football isn't better. But it's not worse either. And it's certainly not back on top. As elitism creeps into the GAA like a steam train, polarising our national games on any grounds is a bad idea. I know from experience, and from talking to people around the country, that clubs at underage level are driving kids towards one game or the other. You can't be successful at both, so sacrifice one to have a better chance at winning with the other.

In a time when obesity and inactivity are among a myriad of problems facing the youth of the country, surely we have an obligation to at the very least encourage both.

That, at club level, we are communicating the message that sport is only worthwhile if you win is a serious situation. And it's happening.

The spectacle last weekend, surely to be magnified this weekend when Clare take on Cork, will hopefully emphasise that we're getting a lot right, an awful lot right.

However, we have the potential for further progress by providing the space for not just the Goochs and Tony Kellys to reach the level of art, but also for the guy at the end of the road who, in the right atmosphere, won't be lost to sport forever.


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