After about five minutes of Friday’s All-Star game in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City, the crowd stopped cheering scores.
Realising the affair had as much bite as a hen, their apathy grew and the hum of conversation increased on the sidelines.
Few if anyone pretended this was going to be anything more than an exhibition match coming on a trip rewarding the best players for their efforts of the last two years. Some of them were keen to put on a show; others treated it with the same level of indifference it has been by most footballers and hurlers in recent years.
But for the score-line, teams and scorers, we didn’t carry a report in Saturday’s edition. There was no point.
What can we tell you about it? Well, there was a header from Philly McMahon; there was also a Neil Gallagher volley, which if it hadn’t flown over the bar would have been a contender for goal of the year had it come in a game of consequence.
Recovering from a virus, Paul Geaney scored a peach of a goal that cracked the underside of the woodwork and Michael Murphy almost achieved the same.
In all, 24 goals were scored but in 29 degree heat the fare left plenty cold.
Coming as it does in the closed season, players were understandably not going to risk injury. Anthony Maher didn’t tog out as he nurses himself back to fitness.
Jonny Cooper and Ryan McHugh each played a half of football. On the last football trip two years ago, there was an audible gasp from the 2013 and 14 teams in Canton, Massachusetts when former Kerry U21 player Kieran O’Connor, playing for New York, broke his leg and tore ankle ligaments in the curtain-raiser against Boston.
They were spooked and the standard of football illustrated that.
This latest chapter wasn’t as bad. Usually, the All Stars game takes place on a Sunday but because of the Formula One finale in Abu Dhabi it was brought forward to Friday. As a result, players were fresher. All the same, they knew what they had served up was scour.
Some were embarrassed. Some were constructive and already coming up with suggestions as how to improve it. One mentioned the idea of designer watches for the winners or All-Star rings similar to those given to Superbowl winners.
Another proposed that there be a charity element with each victorious team member’s chosen group benefiting as a result of their endeavours. There was also the idea of staging it on the first day of the tour.
In fairness to the GPA, they know it’s a flawed spectacle. From a hurling perspective, their Super 11s concept has been an attempt to rectify that even if that Dublin-Galway row last year was ridiculous.
As former chairman Dónal Óg Cusack wrote in these pages 12 months ago: “I don’t think I ever played an All Star game in America in front of more than a couple of hundred people. Being honest, the apathy of the public to the All Stars games was matched by the apathy of the players. We were and are doing the game and our emigrants a disservice through the All Stars model of exhibiting our games.”
GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail accepts the game could be more meaningful but stressed the visit of the All Stars alone is worth a lot. “There could be an interprovincial competition, perhaps. There has to be an edge to a game. It has to be for something. The concept needs to be looked at. We are thinking of those things. There is a view this is just a reward for players and it is end-of-season down-time and the locals just like having them here. I was very keen to hear what the locals think, I meet the chair, secretary and treasurer of the Middle East Board and they were quite happy; they got the All Stars here, they got them to meet their youngsters.
“It doesn’t have a cutting, competitive edge to it nor do we pretend it does. Maybe it doesn’t need that; there are some who feel it does. I’m not too sure it does.
“£I’m happy the unit who we visit get a lot of pleasure from it,” he said before finishing, “I don’t think we’ll be able to bring a competitive game into it.”
Ó Fearghail highlighted how ex-pats were delighted to meet the players in the post-match reception and it’s a valid point. However, emigrants deserve better entertainment. They are now the booming force of the organisation.
As GAA membership outside Ireland grows, might there be merit in “away” All-Ireland finals with an All Stars game as the warm-up or even reviving the model of the All-Ireland champions facing an All Star selection?
Anything seems better than retaining the status quo.
Kerry’s selector Fitz right
News of Maurice Fitzgerald’s forthcoming appointment as Kerry selector was greeted with widespread nods of approval in the All-Stars touring party.
If Éamonn Fitzmaurice didn’t have enough inspiration on the sideline already in the form of Mikey Sheehy and Liam Hassett, the presence of Fitzgerald has amplified it.
Might we read something into Fitzmaurice adding another forward to his management team? Perhaps, but more than anything else the Cahirsiveen man will bring a cool head to the set-up, a voice that will be respected instantaneously and a steeliness.
That last trait was so evident in the tale told by Darragh Ó Sé about the time Fitzgerald surprisingly handed him a ball to take a free: Fitzgerald didn’t want to let on to the opposition that he had been winded in winning it. For all the class Fitzgerald oozes, he is the type of competitor who’d be reluctant to give away anything, even the throw-in time. Ó Sé also recounted tips Fitzgerald used to provide before matches such as shocking the opposition with something new. If Fitzmaurice was looking to send out a message, he has achieved it but what he has succeeded in doing most is adding another star to his group. Coming at a time when retirements are being considered and the long-standing link with the Ó Sés has broken, Fitzgerald’s appointment alone can change minds.
Noonan wasn’t so wrong on ‘reluctant’ emigrants
Who will forget the backlash Minister for Finance Michael Noonan received four years ago when he claimed young Irish people were leaving the country for “lifestyle reasons” and “wanted to see another part of the world”?
With Ireland still in the grips of a recession, Noonan claimed his quotes were taken out of context and admitted some were forced to leave for better job opportunities. His comments wouldn’t have been so wide of the mark if he said a proportion had been pulled more than pushed.
His remarks would appear accurate now seeing how young ex-pats live it up in the United Arab Emirates these last few days.
Wages for the many Irish teaching are handsome, earning between €3,000 and €5,000 per month. All of it tax-free.
Many have plans to return home, of course, with their savings going towards mortgage deposits and what not.
It was noticeable just how many have two- or three-year strategies in the Middle East. But for now they are living it up.
As GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail says elsewhere in these pages today, the GAA clubs in the Middle East play a fundamental social role for these young emigrants but with the sun on their backs and plenty of dirham in the pockets there’s little need to worry about them.
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