Monday, February 27, 2006

The Green above the Red

It is with no small sense of unease and disquiet, that same unease that we get when we feel someone is walking on one’s grave, that An Spailpín Fánach reads the latest bull from Seán Feeney, the secretary of the Mayo County Board.

Patrons at Mayo matches will have noticed that the Mayo team have been wearing the predominantly red, “away,” jersey in a lot of games this year – against Roscommon in the FBD League, and against Kerry and Offaly in the National League, to name but three instances. An Spailpín Fánach has watched many games between Roscommon and Mayo and never before have Mayo had to change strips. So what’s going on?

The Hogan Stand quotes Feeney on the matter, as shall An Spailpín Fánach:

“Because we’d have to change three times, we felt we’d stick with the red so that the players get used to it and get into a routine – that’s very important. When you’re playing under lights or on a wet day, a predominantly green jersey can be hard to pick out. Furthermore, scientific evidence shows that red jerseys are easier to pick out against the grass.”

Let’s have that last sentence one more time, to be sure, to be sure: “scientific evidence shows that red jerseys are easier to pick out against the grass.”

Scientific evidence, a Rúnaí? Who are these “scientists” who came up with this scientific evidence? Was it, by any chance, Dr Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant, Beaker? Because I don’t see for one second how anyone higher on the food chain could come up with such a statement. You need to go down a few phyla to find that level of science – all the way down to whatever phylum it is where an animal’s mouth is one and the same with its arse.

“Easier to pick out against the grass”? They must be letting their paddocks run wild in Mr Feeney’s part of the world where the grass is at the level of a grown man’s chest. And how well this absence of red in the jersey hasn’t held back Kerry from winning 33 All-Ireland titles, and counting? What are these people trying to pull?

The kindest suggestion I’ve heard is that the Board have a stockpile of the red jerseys in some warehouse somewhere, and are eager to get shot of the things. That’s reasonable insofar as it goes. What is disturbing is the fear – so far denied by the Board – that the old green above the red design is to be abandoned for the Championship, and for good and always.

It is hard to describe just how calamitous a decision this would be. The Green above the Red is one of surprisingly few distinct county strips in the country. I don’t think Kilkenny will be swapping the black and amber anytime soon, so I don’t see why Mayo should either. Mayo have a long and proud football tradition and the jersey is part of that. The Green above the Red is associated with Mayo people, that dream deoraithe, where-ever in the world they roam, irrespective of how far they are from the heather of their native heath. It’s so much a part of the Mayo identity that the Sawdoctors immortalised it in song, and no greater tribute can there be than that from the enemy. It was only Mark Antony that could call Brutus the greatest Roman of them all, and thus it was only men from Tuam, the beating heart of Galway football, that could immortalise what those proud colours mean.

The positioning of the stripes of the jersey is by no means an accident – it goes back to the very foundation of the GAA itself, and one of the first ever recorded games of football in the county Mayo.

Colonel Maurice Blake of Towerhill was a landlord in South Mayo, and patron of his local football team, Carnacon. When Carnacon played Belcarra in 1887, Colonel Blake saw the chance to make a political point – Blake was a Catholic, and Belcarra were sponsored by a local Protestant, Unionist, family, the Brownes. In the light of this, Colonel Blake insisted that Carnacon line out in strips that featured Green above Red, in reference to Dr Croke’s fear, expressed his famous letter to Michael Cusack, that if the Irish did not stand up to express their nationality, we might all just as well “clap hands for joy at the sight of the Union Jack, and place 'England's bloody red' exultantly above the green.”

And that is why Mayo have always worn the green above the red, and always must, if they are to mean anything at all. Willie Joe, in the photo above, is seen wearing red above the green, but only because its his own red blood that he spilled for cause on that famous day in 1989. Not because he had product to flog, or some half-witted motivational theory to live up to either. Maigh Eo abú.

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