Sunday, July 11, 2010

Meath's Unique Opportunity to Make a Truly Regal Gesture

Fate has gifted the Meath County Board a tremendous chance to remind the nation of what the GAA is truly about. If Meath to offer a replay to Louth after the bizarre ending to today’s Leinster final they will make it clear that how you play the game really is more important than winning or losing.

Sport is a funny thing. In the fury of battle we have tropes about games being more important than life or death, but they’re not. They’re just games. They’re important because what we do in play should reflect what we do in real life. The values of our society should be reflected in the values of our games.

Meath can turn today’s refereeing blunder to everybody’s advantage by saying that titles come and go but values are eternal. This is why there’s a tremendous moral obligation on Meath to offer Louth a replay of the Leinster Final. Meath are big enough; another Leinster title won’t effect them one way or the other, and even if they lose they’re still in the All-Ireland Championship.

But by offering a replay Meath will demonstrate that in their bones they understand why we play the game. They cannot concede the title of course because Louth did have enough chances to put the game away and not get caught in the 73rd minute – Louth today learned that you really do have to play better than the referee referees. But in offering Louth a replay Meath can show that football is not about war or conquest but about honour, nobility and dignity.

Sportsmanship counts for more than titles. What worth is a title when nobody admires you for winning it? If Meath march on in the Championship, they will be like men who dressed as women to climb into the women and children’s lifeboat, and the stain will last forever.

The title is poisonous for them. Everyone they play will know what happened today, and they will think: you’re Meath. You’re meant to be bigger than that.

Meath is the royal county, one of the perennial aristocrats of Gaelic Football. They are fourth in the roll of honour with twenty Leinster titles and seven All-Irelands. They can afford to make a sporting gesture to a neighbour and a sleeping giant of the game.

Tommy Carr was on the radio earlier this evening saying that a replay was impossible. Why? There is precedent. Didn’t Clare offer Offaly a replay in the hurling in 1998? Could that replay have gone ahead if Clare hadn’t put the good of the game first, to their own great disadvantage? Why can’t Meath do the same?

Meath could offer a replay and it not to happen. The GAA could refuse (and open a whole other can of worms, but we won’t worry about that for now) or Louth could think completely outside the box and decline the replay, to try their luck in the qualifiers. What a supreme gesture that would be against the vicissitudes of Fate, but Meath must offer the replay first as Louth cannot do anything to change things now. Meath must seize the day and say the game is bigger than us all, and the game will best be served by our offering Louth a replay. Whatever happens after that happens, but Meath’s honour demands they offer the replay.

There have been references made to Thierry Henry’s handball in the soccer last year. The difference is that FIFA is all about money and product, and nothing else. If it were, diving and cheating would not be as endemic in soccer as it is. Money has no time for honour.

But the GAA is an amateur association, and should therefore represent higher values. Now is a once in a lifetime chance for the Association to show that we are about honour and sportsmanship above anything else, and the power to make that statement rests with Meath. Meath is the home of the Hill of Tara, seat of the Irish High Kings. A disastrous refereeing decision has gifted Meath a supreme chance to make a supreme gesture. Let’s hope they seize the day.

FOCAL SCOIR: The abuse of the referee that occurred after the final whistle raises a number of separate issues, to do with stewarding, speed of Garda response and the rest of it. They are separate issues and any attempts to play one outrage against another is disingenuous. Two wrongs never make a right.