Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mayo Minors and the GAA - Symbols of the Best of Ourselves

Your correspondent is flattered to be in the Mayo News today, writing about the Mayo minors who are facing Armagh in the All-Ireland final on Sunday, but also about the GAA itself, that remarkable organisation that remains, in so many ways, the best of ourselves. Up Mayo.

On Sunday at a quarter past one or so yet another Mayo team will respond to the call of the bugle on All-Ireland Final day. Mayo have been in so many senior finals in the past few years that some people have actually become blasé about the big day, or else bitter about the cruelty of the defeats.

This is the wrong attitude. Life is short and fleeting, and it’s best to take the poet’s advice and gather ye rosebuds while ye may. No day in Irish life is greater than All-Ireland final day, and to see Ray Dempsey bring another Mayo team to the great stage is a cause of delight and celebration.

Bliss it would be to win, of course, and bring home the Markham Cup. There is no reason why they can’t win it, and several why they can. But even the very fact that we are still playing Gaelic games is miraculous, in its own way.

In the modern world, the fact that an amateur organisation can be such a unifying force to show the nation at its best is staggering. Not least when you consider the forces ranged against it.

The current recession has exposed much of what we’ve been interested in lately as fools’ gold, and we seek solace among the wreckage. Yet throughout all this, there still shines the GAA, an organisation that should have been consigned to history along with doors on the latch, visiting your neighbours and whitewashing the house.

But progress hasn’t swallowed it yet, and as the country faces peril in public life, the GAA could be the very best thing we still have going for us.

Because the GAA still represents all that’s best about us. The GAA is not eighty thousand people in Croke Park watching Dublin v Kerry – the GAA is having somewhere to send your kids to play a game, to be looked after and learn about life, to learn about fitting in, about who they are and where they’re from, about the wisdom of taking Kipling’s advice on treating those impostors, triumph and disaster, just the same.

Some people will tell you that rugby in Croke Park is the triumph of the GAA. I say to you that the triumph of the GAA is that people keep clubs going by giving up their weekends to sell lotto tickets, and by packing fifteen schoolboys and a dog into a van and taking them to a match refereed by a sheep and umpired by curlews in a field that isn’t marked on any map.

And for we Mayo people this week, having another team at headquarters on All-Ireland Final is a reason for joy, confirmation that the organisation is strong and replenishing among the plain of the Yews. None of this happens by accident, or divine right, or dumb luck. It happens because the players and the management and the Board, God love them and forgive them their trespasses, put a lot of effort into it.

When Mayo face Armagh on Sunday, remember for a moment that there are thirty other counties who would give a lot to be in Mayo’s stead. Not least the gallant Mournemen, who found in Mayo a wall which they could not scale on that wet day in Croke Park. Or Tipperary, who fell in Tullamore while the nation’s eyes were on Kerry and Dublin. Or Roscommon, who took Mayo to a replay after giving all they had in the Connacht Final, in the best traditions of the Constant Hearts.

Winter will soon be with us, and who knows what that winter will bring. But before the winter bites, what joy that the minors are in the final, challenging for honours, and what joy that the green and red flags will wave at headquarters as the sun sets on another magical Irish summer. These are the days of our lives. Up Mayo.

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