Friday, December 07, 2007

Mayo Stands Up to the GPA!

They’ve broken his heart on more than one occasion, but An Spailpín Fánach is proud of the Mayo County Board this happy, happy day.

An Spailpín has been worried since the weekend about the craven way the top cats of the GAA caved in to those carpet-bagging mercenaries in the GPA. But thank God there still beat true hearts in Erin – the Derry and Tyrone county boards have voted against the grant scheme, and now Mayo stands with them in the van of the Mother of All Battles for the very soul of the GAA. At the Mayo Board meeting last night, there wasn’t one vote in favour of the disgraceful compromise offered by Central Council to rascality and schism, and it’s all I can to hold back the tears of pride just thinking about it.

The Irish media has made a jellyfish look like Leonidas guarding the Pass of Thermopylae in the way they have utterly failed to question the motives and method of the GPA. In one way it’s not surprising, because most writing on the GAA is so profoundly superficial that it’s clear the writers have no idea about the soul of the organisation. Anyone that writes, in clear conscience, that Dublin filling Croke Park on big match days is the ne plus ultra of GAA life is like a dietician saying that Tayto is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Causality is not these people’s strong suit; to suggest that big crowds in the country’s biggest stadium are a cause and not an effect in GAA reality is to fundamentally misunderstand the organisation, and it’s a misunderstanding that could cost the organisation its very future.

It’s not hard to project what will happen if the GPA get their way. The grants will only go to the top twelve counties, and the minnows can go whistle, as usual. As more money comes in the gap between the strong and weak counties will become more pronounced. Eventually, more and more money will come in, and that will result in mismatches being played in front of empty stadia. Motions will then be put to Congress to divide the Championship into A and B Championships, the A Championship for Sam, contested by the elite, and the B for the also-rans, who can play for the Ciarán Whelan Punchbowl, or some other trinket. Or else they’ll continue the Championship, but they’ll amalgamate and break up counties according to money and population-base. Then, in the Leinster Championship of 2025 or so, the crowds will assemble from all around at the Chicken Tonight Bowl, just two miles from the M50, to see the first big Championship clash of the summer, the Longford-Roscommon Corncrakes versus reigning Leinster Champions, the Finglas Firecats, presented in association with Diageo and Goodfellas Pizza.

Think it couldn’t happen? It already has – in Wales. Rugby was in Wales what the GAA is still in Ireland, the heart and soul of a people. All the biographies of the great Welsh players of the 1970s contain a generic chapter about the hero – Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies, or whoever – coming home to find two suits from the professional Rugby League offering big money to play in the North of England, and someone’s old granny saying “don’t do it son, don’t let down your heritage, don’t let down the hwyl of ancient Cymru.” And that’s all ancient history now. Think I was messing about Longford-Roscommon earlier? What do you think the Neath-Swansea Ospreys are?

Tom Humphries signalled this exact parallel in the Irish Times four a half years ago, and Humphries was never a rugby man. But he met Cliff Morgan just when Wales were implementing the professional structures, and drew the frightening parallels.

The Welsh are victims of the fact that their game has an international dimension, and were therefore caught up in a tide not of their making. There is no international dimension to the GAA, bar those disgraceful junkets to Australia. The GAA is under no pressure from outside to professionalise, and here they are about to sign away their birthright for thirty Euro a week. And that’s the other thing – at least the Welsh are swimming in a big enough pool to generate enough money from many sources. The GAA can only draw on money within the nation, and if you want to see what a professional league that can only access internal revenue looks like, well, take a peek at the League of Ireland. Thank God for Derry, Tyrone and Mayo that they have made this stand. We are at the precipice, but we can still go back.

Know this: the GPA is about pay for play. Anything about “fair deals” is all old chat that has no discrete meaning, and an attempt to sugar a very nasty pill, as members from counties outside the elite twelve are hopefully now coming to realise. Eugene McGee wrote in the Indo during the week that he was disappointed that the GPA wasn’t looking out for the smaller counties. Since when did those boys show any sign of concern about smaller counties? I was surprised at Eugene.

It’s time the jokers in GPA were called to account. I was on Noel Walsh’s radio show on Northern Sound Radio this afternoon talking about this very topic, and I called on Dessie Farrell to put his money where his mouth is, and to debate the issue with me on Noel’s show. And I’m not even anybody – I’m just a guy that likes keeping a blog. But I’m ready to get in the ring to see if I can find out what makes Dessie do it. After all, he’s hardly a Gaelic player himself anymore, is he? What’s in it for him. Is Dessie willing to take me on, or is Dessie a chicken at Christmas? Watch this space.

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