Tuesday, October 04, 2005

International Fools' Football

Strewth - it looks like a bit of a blue!The GAA media is all atwitter at the prospect of the upcoming "International Rules" series between Ireland and Australia. And why wouldn't they be? If An Spailpín Fánach was on his way off to Australia for three solid weeks of beer, birds and barbies, his frown would turn upside down too. But if you're some sort of innocent that wants to see Gaelic Games prosper and thrive, then you have to realise that sponsoring debauched junkets to Australia isn't going to cut it.

The official selling point of the "International Rules" series is that it offers our players a chance to play our games at the highest level, and to wear the dear old Green of Mother Ireland, that emerald gem of the Western World, for so long set in the crown of a stranger, and now taking her place among the nations of the Earth. A really good GAAman will get teary-eyed reciting all this, eventually leaving you with the conclusion that the reason we play "International Rules" is because Patrick Sarsfield would wish it, aye, and Wolfe Tone too.

That the boys are only going on the Three B Bender beyond in Oz, a hemisphere away from the trouble the strife, is only something an anti-national bowsie would think - an anti-national bowsie who's about to lose his press privileges too, young sonny Jim, so just shut your big mouth and get on-message.

The reason the Aussies play their part in the farce is even more cynical.

The Australian game lasts for two hours, and it's played at a pace and in a manner best described as rambunctious - that is to say, it's unusually violent. That means in turn, of course, that a footy season is rather heavy on the livestock, and they Aussies need new recruits. So why not pick 'em from Ireland? Bring over a few young lads, show them the bright lights of the big city, then show them a good big cheque. And if they die in service, send the remains home draped in the proud old colours of Hawthorn, sponsored by HSBC Bank, Mitsubishi Motors and Foster's, the Australian for beer.

In the 'eighties, when all Spailpíní were young, the visiting Australians had a certain glamour. There was the bearded Dipper, who was big, and the long-haired John Platten, who was small. Then the games began, the pucks landed home, and we realised the Aussies were more Irish than the Irish themselves. But that was then, this is now. There was still a certain innocence in 1984 in Ireland, but right now we do the hard sell as hard as any Yankee.

And I'm sick of it. I've sick of reading a lot of bollix in the papers about pride in the jersey of a game that no-one plays. And I'm sick most of all that Aussies are sleep-walking through the whole thing. The best Australia players couldn't bother their arse going through the motions for a bunch of Micks on the beer in Brisbane, and playing a little footie in between times. If they did, they'd do more bitching about the round ball. If they did, their best players would play, which they don't.

We're only fooling ourselves. At the end of this month, the Railway Cup, once the St Patrick's Day jewel of the GAA, will be played, and no-one will notice. Once it was ne plus ultra of Gaelic sports, where giants like Ring and Mick O'Connell played at the highest level of hurling and football, alongside men who, through being born in the wrong place or at the wrong time, never got the chance to play at the highest level but who used to make the most of their chance in the Railway Cup on St Patrick's Day. Men who were better served by the Railway Cup than by Seán Kelly's insulting and patronising Ring, Rackard and Murphy Cups.

If you still think the "International Rules" series worthwhile, can I ask one question, asked by Mickey Harte, now the series' biggest opponent (his ire fired by the Aussies' attempted poaching of Seán Cavanagh, no doubt): if the "International Rules" series of games were played in Scunthorpe and Manchester instead of Sydney and Melbourne, do you really think anyone would give a XXXX about pride in the jersey and Ireland's honour? No; neither do I. End this farce now.