Monday, December 01, 2008

What's in a Name?

Is there anything that the Mayo County Board will not do for money? It was to be hoped, if there were any good to be gained from the continuing reality check the nation is currently enduring, that the current financial crisis would have reminded people of the value of money.

The news that the Mayo County Board are seeking to hawk the naming rights of McHale Park, currently under-going a process of development and refurbishment, to the highest bidder would suggest that we have learned nothing at all.

Mr Seán Feeney, Secretary of the Mayo County Board, remarks in an interview in the Mayo News last week that “the money has to come from somewhere.” He is correct in this regard, but he is mistaken if he thinks that there is that much available for naming rights. There’s a recession on – how much can a company possibly make from sponsoring the name of a provincial GAA stadium in a recession?

Mr Feeney is also quoted as saying that “we did a lot of research into what other counties had done to raise money, naming rights, and the selling of seats.” When that lot of research is finished, Mr Feeney is going to discover that there is only one other provincial GAA stadium in Ireland that has a sponsored name – Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan.

This suggests two things. Firstly, there isn’t that much money in naming rights to a stadium in Ireland, because if there was there’d be more than one sponsored stadium in the country. Secondly, the fact that Kingspan is a building company and also the sponsor of the county team would suggest that the relationship between the Cavan County Board and Kingspan is complex, and therefore their stadium sponsorship may be part of a bigger picture.

Mr Feeney remarks in that same Mayo News interview that “in an ideal world, we’d like to have a Mayo company’s name on the stadium but that may not be possible,” and this is the most troubling remark in all of the interview. Because you have to ask yourself the question: why would a non-Mayo company want to sponsor the Mayo county ground?

The only reason that a non-Mayo company would be interested in naming rights to the Mayo county ground would be because they were getting it cheap. What’s to lose? And if the Mayo Board are selling the naming rights cheap then they should be run out town on the first bus leaving the station.

An Spailpín Fánach is sick, sore and tired of the riches of my county and my country being shilled for a bag of beads and nuts. Events at Rossport, fifty miles north of Castlebar, show exactly what happens when you sell out cheap. The Government neglected their duty of care towards the people in North Mayo when they made their sweetheart deal with Shell, and the Mayo County Board will equally betray their heritage if they sign over the naming rights to McHale Park for three gobstoppers and the string from a yo-yo.

The GAA, as has been mentioned in this space previously, is not just a sporting organisation. The GAA is a cultural organisation, for which the remit of preserving and promoting indigenous culture and heritage is every bit as important as running sporting competitions. And that is why the name of the stadium is important – because Archbishop McHale was a Mayo hero, and in naming the county ground after him Mayo GAA does honour to a man who stood for his people against pressures both within and without.

Archbishop John McHale’s time of influence is so long ago now – over one hundred and fifty years – that it’s difficult to remember what he did, and why the stadium is named after him. In even thinking of changing the name of the stadium the Mayo Board seems to have forgotten. A quick history lesson, then.

John McHale was born outside Laherdane in 1791. He went on to be ordained a priest during the time of the Penal Laws, rose to Archbishop of Tuam and his role in history is as one of the chief supporters of Daniel O’Connell in O’Connell’s campaigns for Catholic emancipation and Repeal of the Act of Union.

Emancipation was passed, Repeal failed, O’Connell died and McHale was eventually silenced by the new Cardinal, Doctor Cullen, who did not believe in rocking boats. The mother church’s policy was always to get along with whoever is in charge; McHale, by contrast, put his people – the people of Mayo – first, and suffered the consequences.

And that’s why the stadium is named after him. Because the GAA is also about heroes, about standing up for where you’re from and what you believe in.

If the Mayo County Board can generate a sum so sufficiently enormous to overcome this statement of belief in heroism and local pride in the name of future development, so be it. We have to live in the real world. But if the deal is anything less than that, if, come next summer, Mayo are playing a Championship game in the Iceland Foods Stadium, with the ball thrown in by Ms Kerry Katona, we will all have lost a great part of our souls.

But it won’t matter to An Spailpín, because An Spailpín will not be there. As a friend of mine remarked in regard to share prices recently, there is such a thing as a point of no return. An Spailpín will be monitoring the situation with a heavy and anxious heart.

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