Wednesday 13 November 2019

Have your say

Time for GAA to say no to its rival

As a lifelong committed member of the GAA, I read with dismay of the move to make GAA grounds available to the IRFU to support the latter's application to stage a rugby World Cup in Ireland.

The GAA and the IRFU are rivals, bitter rivals in the past and friendly rivals now but rivals nonetheless. Both organisations are fishing in the same small pool, both are competing for the hearts and minds of the youngsters of Ireland.

In the case of the IRFU, it can depend on a glamorous international dimension complete with massive media coverage through Sky Sports and the like, and a very supportive media at home, to promote its games. The GAA, in contrast, can't compete with the international exposure rugby gets. However, the GAA does have a network of grounds all over the country in which to showcase its games. Now, apparently, there is a move to allow use of its grounds to promote the game of its biggest rival.

When it was proposed to open Croke Park for rugby games some in the GAA who opposed the decision were dubbed 'dinosaurs'. These dinosaurs warned that the boost rugby would receive from the use of Croker would be detrimental to the health of our own games. It gives me no pleasure to say the dinosaurs were proven correct. At the time of this decision to open up Croker, a friend of mine, secretary of a rugby club, said to me: "This is fantastic news for us; it will be a disaster for you (GAA)."

Rugby has gone from strength to strength in the years since Croke Park housed its first rugby game and has made significant inroads into GAA heartlands. For example, at present I coach an under 13 hurling team: seven of the players play rugby as well as hurling and football; five years ago I also had an under 13 team -- not one of those played rugby. Youngsters can probably get away with juggling a variety of games for a while but must sooner or later make a choice. With the marketing and hype, the media coverage and the new-found glamour of rugby, more and more of these youngsters are likely to opt out of our games.

Good luck to the rugby people, they are doing an excellent job promoting their game: Munster and Leinster jerseys worn all over the country, kids carrying rugby balls where previously they might have had footballs or hurleys, public parks full of people playing tag rugby and rugby celebrities all over the newspapers and TV. Rugby is very much the 'in' sport at the moment and without a doubt the boost it got from having its major games played in front of more than 80,000 people in Croke Park was a major factor in its popularity. Certainly the sound of Amhrán na bhFiann echoing around the stadium and Ireland going on to beat England made for a wonderful occasion, but at what cost to the GAA?

The IRFU had the GAA's assistance with Croke Park for a few years because of what the GAA leadership said was a once-off set of circumstances; now we're being told there's another once-off set of circumstances coming along! We were told that only Croke Park would be opened to rugby, no other grounds would be involved; now it's suggested that grounds all over the country could be hosting rugby games -- Fitzgerald Stadium, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Pearse Stadium and Casement Park giving a platform in GAA strongholds for the promotion of a rival game. An uncle of mine, a wonderful old man, said to me at the time of the opening of Croke Park, "I didn't spend all my life working for the GAA, giving my blood, sweat and tears building up our Association, to see our pitches handed over to our opponents".

We have our wonderful grounds all over the country because people through the generations worked tirelessly to provide them for our games, for our players, for our supporters. The GAA leadership should have the courage to say, 'No -- our grounds, built by our people for our games, will be used by our people and for our games'.

In return for opening Croker, the GAA made money and lots of it but obviously not as much as the IRFU as it promotes and pushes its game to traditional GAA schools. Look at all the strong GAA schools now fielding rugby teams on the back of the provision of equipment and coaches from a cash-rich IRFU; look at the primary schools now introducing rugby, again with the help of personnel and materials provided by their local rugby clubs.

We're told now that giving our grounds for the Rugby World Cup would be "in the national interest." The phrase, "in the national interest" is often thrown out in an attempt to make people swallow some particularly bitter-tasting medicine. Since its foundation 128 years ago, the GAA has worked tirelessly in the national interest. The notion that slitting its own throat could be in the national interest is nonsensical; that the GAA leadership is proposing such a course of action beggars belief.

Pádraig Ó Fainín

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