Joe Brolly and Jarlath Burns are strange bedfellows.
A potted history of their interactions in recent years —their Armagh Twitter row in 2014, the mark, the Irish flag/anthem debate in 2015 — wouldn’t suggest they are in cahoots.
Yet their calls within days of one another for the GAA to back a border poll warrants attention.
Brolly feels it’s necessary that the “GAA show leadership” when there is none from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland society.
Burns argues the Official Guide compels the Association not to be “neutral on the issue of a border poll, it gives us a position”.
Burns’ interpretation of the rulebook is loose, to say the least. He quotes the basic aim of the GAA as being “the strengthening of the national identity in a 32-county Ireland through the presentation and promotion of Gaelic games”. The operative words are “through the presentation and promotion of Gaelic games” but Burns skips over that. It’s by playing native pastimes and the organisation of such that the GAA portrays that sense of nationalism.
Going by The Irish Times poll last week, Brolly’s claim about the DUP would have a lot of substance, so what else has the GAA to lose by mobilising? Plenty.
For a start, there’s the years of work and millions of sterling put into the Casement Park reconstruction process, which is now expected to run to £110m (€128m) and continues to teeter on the precipice it has been perched on for almost five years.
It would also look pretty odd on the GAA’s part to seek a vote on the border when they have admitted they have put no plans in place for Brexit. It’s worrying that Croke Park don’t appear to be prepared for the doomsday scenario at the end of the month but when a company as big as Kingspan are maintaining the “keep calm and carry on” approach, maybe such concern is misplaced.
The GAA, though, don’t yet have an interest in taking the advice of Brolly at least. “There has been a lot of commentary and there’s a lot of varying opinions and the GAA will take stock,” GAA director of communications Alan Milton told RTÉ over the weekend, “but until such time as there is a border poll it would be divisive to jump into a discussion that may not be necessary.”
As Paul Rouse wrote in the Irish Examiner last Friday, the GAA has questions to ask itself before it dares to tell others about what sovereign country they think we should live in.
If the GAA’s recent rewording of the property use rule is anything to go by, there is no longer a determination to be defined by what it opposes and rivals as what they practice. Where Rule 5.1 (a) once read that GAA grounds could be used “for such other purposes not in conflict with the aims and objects of the Association providing Central Council has sanctioned it”, it now reads that Central Council are empowered to give the green light for county and Croke Park to be used for “such other purposes, which accord with the aims of the Association”.
And yet the GAA’s nationalist identity, as outlined in the introduction of the GAA’s Official Guide, remains true for many members: “Since she has not control over all the national territory, Ireland’s claim to nationhood is impaired. It would be still more impaired if she were to lose her language, if she failed to provide a decent livelihood for her people at home, or if she were to forsake her own games and customs in favour of the games and customs of another nation. If pride in the attributes of nationhood dies, something good and distinctive in our race dies with it.”
The GAA has played a significant part in ensuring that identity remains, and with its growth comes the power that Brolly and Burns have compelled it to exercise.
But there is a responsibility too.
The GAA has become bigger than something that defies and exists in spite. That history can never be forgotten — Gaelic games’ presence in the fourth green field obviously means more — but it has already been doing its bit for the national identity by flourishing at the same time while flexing to reflect the changing face of Irish society.
England’s difficulty is not the GAA’s opportunity. Not this time. Not when that very difficulty is also Ireland’s.
For the GAA to lobby for a border vote would be foolish and dangerous. That the authorities recognise that is a further example of its maturity.
Email: john.fogarty@ examiner.ie
Brian Cody’s revelation that Kilkenny were agreeable not to contest a relegation play-off said more about the GAA than it did the Cats.
“All I know is we were asked during the week whether we were happy to let one team go into one group and the other go into the other,” said Cody, “and I certainly would think that would be the sensible thing to do. It would be a futile match really but whatever happens, happens.”
It is not so futile now that Conor Delaney and Seamus Harnedy have bans to serve and this provides an extra game that could ensure they will be available come the Leinster and Munster SHC campaigns — league round matches and Championship are linked.
So Cody and John Meyler may be glad of it with their May 11 and 12 openers against Dublin and Tipperary in mind.
That being said, why did it take until last week for the GAA to ask counties whether there was a need for a relegation play-off when relegation does not exist this year? Surely not because of the postponed games. Could the decision not have been made before Christmas when the master fixtures list was released and it was obvious back then that a play-off was unnecessary with the agreed changes to the Division 1 format?
It’s hardly great marketing to refer to a game as a relegation play-off when it is nothing of the sort, and if the likes of Cody now consider it a necessary evil imagine how season ticket holders must feel given that many of them must attend the game to keep up their attendance records to 60% or over to guarantee All-Ireland final tickets should their counties reach that stage. All in all, it’s a mess.
Davy Fitzgerald is following the example of Stephen Rochford, and others, by splitting his time during games between the stand and the sideline.
“You get to see what way the game is going,” he said of the higher vantage point for the first half of Sunday’s win over Kilkenny.
“If I’m being totally honest with you, it’s a completely different game down on the sideline. I can’t see shapes. When you’re down there, you’re on pitch level and it’s so hard. Up above, it’s unreal. I can change our shape, I can do different things. So, I came to the conclusion of doing half and half (sideline and stand). And it’ll also, hopefully, give the boys a bit of a lift in the second half, when you’re down there.”
Fitzgerald, who had a box created in Wexford Park two years ago so that he could watch the Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny as he served the last day of his eight-week suspension, is obviously suiting himself with the view from above. However, if other managers realise the benefits, and for the entirety of the game, then there may not be as many flashpoints on the sideline, be it between managers or with match officials.
Rules can only go so far, but incidents like Brian Cody’s long conversation with referee Alan Kelly, on Sunday, the heated words between John Kiely and Donal Moloney seven days earlier, and the behaviour that led to Kieran McGeeney’s four-match ban from the sideline may all become a thing of the past, if the culture of in-game management changes.