Wednesday 21 February 2018

Our ancient craft suffering from criminal neglect

Sean Diffley

Eamon De Valera, a noted politician who, in the tradition of such ilk, was hailed as a statesman when he passed away, made one memorable quote about Irish sport, or, as he said himself, about Irish culture.

"The ancient game of hurling and rugby football are synonymous with the best in Irish culture," he said.

And the late Mitchel Cogley, once sports editor of this newspaper, agreed with those sentiments.

As I do. It's hardly a view that will gather standing ovations in some quarters but I'd suggest it's a viewpoint that will be popular across the great divide.

Hurling nowadays is confined to Munster, a couple of counties in Leinster and just one in Connacht. There are many counties in Ireland where a hurley stick is as unfamiliar to the natives as a Samurai sword from Japan.

That the GAA -- which vociferously proclaims its Irishness -- should fail to bolster our most ancient game is surely a classic case of criminal neglect. But that's us.

I noted the vast publicity a few days ago granted to our places of famed historical interest -- the Hill of Tara, Rock of Cashel, etc -- when they were among suggestions for inclusion as UNESCO world heritage sites.

But no mention of Telltown, near Trim in Co Meath, where the ancient Tailteann Games were held annually, at least a thousand years before the ancient Olympics began in Greece.

But, whatever about the appalling neglect of hurling -- rugby is thriving in Ireland. The Grand Slam last year and two teams in the Heineken Cup semi-finals this season.

Two -- Leinster and Munster -- from an island of a population of just five million people against two from France -- Biarritz and Toulouse -- a country of 60 million, where rugby is among the most popular and financially favoured of all their sports.

And the fact that England, with all their resources, have no qualifiers at this level, brings us to Ronan O'Gara.

Remember a little while ago when O'Gara said that English rugby's Premiership, the national championship, was not the big cheese that the English media were claiming. They descended on O'Gara like one of those apartment blocks that NAMA might be about to abolish. But not a word since.

And if O'Gara is awaiting an apology, he'd better get himself a rocking chair, because his wait will likely be more than a bit of a prolonged one.

The chosen venues for those semi-finals -- San Sebastian for Munster and Toulouse for Leinster -- strike me as two strange decisions, to say the least. San Sebastian is the Spanish Basque city just across the French border.

You can get a train in France which stops in the town of Hendaye for passport control. This railway station is where Hitler met Franco just after the beginning of World War II -- a great meeting of minds.

And Toulouse, of course, is where they built the Concorde.

The offices of the European Cup are in Dublin, but it is not clear who makes the choice of venues.

Surely it would have been preferable to await the outcome of the quarter-finals before employing these such unsuitable venues.

Biarritz, by the way, is just around the corner from San Sebastian.

So, guess who will be favourites to progress? It won't be the Irish, I can assure you.

Irish Independent

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