Thursday, June 10, 2004

Alone, All Alone

How appropriate it is that it's Tipperary, the Premier County and the location of Hayes Hotel, Thurles, birthplace of the GAA, that should provide us with what could very well be the most revolutionary happening in GAA officialdom since the introduction of the qualifier system.

The facts, insofar as they can be ascertained, are these: aware that his side were playing Fermanagh in an elimination game this Saturday, Andy Shorthall, manager of the Tipp football team, asked the County Board, or, more accurately, the Mid Division Board, whatever in the Christ that is, to postpone a Mid-Tipperary senior hurling championship match between Loughmore and Thurles Sarsfields that was to have been played last night. The reason for Shorthall's concern was that he had two players on his panel, whom he needed for Saturday's game against doughty Fermanagh, playing for the hurling clubs, and he did not care to have them split and shattered hurling outside Nenagh in the gloaming of a late summer's evening so the fixture list of the Mid Division Board looks neat and tidy.

So Andy Shorthall asked that the fixture be postponed, allowing the Premier County to have its best players to wear its colours and uphold its honour against Fermanagh. And the Mid Division Board said no, we're not moving nothing, so there.

A depressingly common occurance. Lots of counties appoint lots of managers all over Ireland but, when it comes to streamlining the system and getting everyone in the county behind the manager, they just leave the poor dumb hoor twisting slowly in the wind. Then, when whatever county it is comes tumbling out of the Championship, the Knights of the High Stool remark to one and other that they always knew that fella was only a bollocks, or, in our Celtic Tiger times, go posting abuse like billy-oh on the Internet.

But Shorthall obviously doesn't fancy being a martyr, and how the Tipp board must bitterly regret appointing him now. For Shorthall is the sacrificial lamb that bit back - instead of throwing his hands in the air, Shorthall called the Board's bluff. He told the Board that if he couldn't have all his players, he'd quit, and that's exactly what he did.

Him, all his selectors, and, as of last night, all his players. There is nobody left to play football for Tipp, and, in consequence, Tipperary have offered Fermanagh a walkover in Saturday's fixture.

I heard on the radio where some buck from the Tipp County Board said that the players would come to regret this awful day (implying, of course, that the players were bad, bad men for turning their backs on Tiobráid Árainn). As far as I'm concerned, those Tipp men are heroes, and the first winners of this year's Championship.

For God knows how many evenings those footballers have dragged themselves away from warm firesides or the promise of cold porter to go running up hills and down valleys for the honour of the Premier County, all the while with an assortment of goons and rogues slapping them on the back and telling them what great men they were. But, when the backslappers were asked to cut these men a break, and give them some chance of flying Tipp colours in triumph after the game against Fermanagh, they all disappeared into the night to a man.

All that support for the minority game of football disappeared into the night. It was all so much hot air. Tokenism at its best.

So the players were right to stand by Shorthall, who was only standing by them in the first place. They'll probably suffer for it down the line - see what being the chief mutineer in Mayo in 1992 did for Peter Ford's chances of managing the Mayo football team since? - but it takes men to stand up and be counted, to say that that they're not there to be patronised or pushed around any more. Well done Tipp, the Premier County.