Challenges for rural clubs set to continue

Last week I shamelessly exploited my corner here to publicise GAA Eile, the TV series which started last Monday and continues this evening on RTÉ One at 8.30pm.

And yes, it bears my grubby fingerprints somewhere in its DNA, if I can mix my metaphors.

One segment last Monday which caught people’s attention was the lady from Kilmacud Crokes saying their club had 1,000 Garda-vetted members, with some comment on the fact that there are fully functioning clubs all over the country which don’t have 1,000 people to pick their teams and administrators from.

In the following days there was a radio show on RTÉ discussing this particular segment, with Crokes putting up a strong defence of their membership fees on the basis that what they have — people — is what some clubs don’t have, but that some rural clubs in particular are rich in what Crokes lack — space. Hence the membership fees, to pay to rent land.

There, in a few seconds, you have one of the issues facing the GAA illustrated vividly — that the solution for this club, county or unit isn’t the same solution that applies for that club, county or unit.

In fact, there was a further finessing of the problems facing the GAA in a throwaway line from a press call which circulated widely later in the week.

Unfeigned applause here for Niamh Cotter of the Cork ladies football team, and for her openness last week.

Asked about her preparations for the Lidl league final, Cotter was frank and honest.

“I will be an antichrist for the week,” said Cotter of the last seven days. “But my mum is going mad altogether because my brother is doing his Leaving Cert, I am in my final year and my sister is doing her exams in pharmacy as well. My mum will be more relieved than all of us when this is over.”

Thoughts and prayers with Mrs Cotter then, at this tricky time in the household.

Thoughts also on what this means for the GAA and rural depopulation, however. It’s great that the Cotter sisters are pursuing their studies in such challenging and rewarding fields, and with those two leading the way young master Cotter will likely find a third-level course to follow also, you’d expect.

But what does it mean for the GAA in Glengarriff, or Beara (for which Niamh Cotter plays)? How many of the Cotter siblings are likely to find work in their chosen fields within an hour’s drive of their home clubs, or an hour and a half’s drive, come to that?

This isn’t a plea for less ambition from or education for our young people. Perhaps Niamh Cotter and the others like her will be able to make their way to train and play for her home club after graduation, but it would obviously be difficult.

It’s striking that a throwaway couple of lines in an interview can show a tricky few years ahead for a small rural club trying to hold onto its players and can simultaneously bring to vivid life the challenge facing an entire sports association.

The solution isn’t immediately obvious to me, either, though I have a sneaking suspicion that a radical re- arrangement of what we mean by a club is not too far away.

Warriors can be lucrative for sportswriters

Last week I mentioned a new book edited by John Schulian, The Great American Sports Page: A Century of Classic Columns From Ring Lardner to Sally Jenkins. All of you generous people who got in touch (I exaggerate slightly) can relax, because the publishers have offered me a review copy.

During the week I heard an interview with Schulian on The Ringer Press Box podcast on which he was outed as one of the creators of Xena: Warrior Princess, which I never knew. Schulian said after years of writing sports he’d decided to give screenwriting a shot and when, at his first ideas meeting, a producer asked him where he wanted his cheques sent, he knew he’d made the right choice leaving sportswriting behind.

The difference, he said, was sportswriting was a great way to make a lousy living, while screenwriting was a lousy way to make a great living.

More to it than Caster is faster

The ruling in the Caster Semenya case last week may have passed you by, but it’s the leading edge in the next level of debate that’s coming down the tracks in sport.

Your view of Semenya, a South African athlete who specialises in middle distance running, may coincide with one of her competitors, Italian athlete Elisa Cusma, who has been quoted as saying: “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She is a man.” Or your view may align with those of intersex activists such as Pidgeon Pagonis, who has been quoted as saying: “Certain bodies are never allowed to be female, are never allowed to be women, are never allowed to just be. What I think it comes down to is: Caster’s faster than white girls and made them cry.”

Those views, taken from a recent Vox piece, represent two ends of the spectrum when it comes to transgender identification and sporting participation, but there was something of a leap last week with a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (whether that leaps was forward or backward depends on your perspective). The IAAF had ruled that certain female athletes who produce high levels of testosterone had to take medication to reduce those levels in order to create a level playing field; Semenya appealed the ruling but the Court of Arbitration for sport ruled against her.

There are any number of issues here that could fill pages and pages for a columnist: gender rights, rights of identification, rights to privacy, rights to equal and safe competition, the science and abuse of hormones... many of these areas are not viewed as academic notions reserved for dry debate, either, but are passionately contested and defended.

There’s a lot more of this kind of discussion to come.

Sad passing of McGee

Very sad to rise yesterday to the news of Eugene McGee’s passing. At last year’s All-Ireland football final I enjoyed a chat with him over a coffee before throw-in, and though I couldn’t claim to know him well, he was good company and always brought a point of view to bear.

You can expect plenty of references to his masterminding of the 1982 All-Ireland football win in the next few days, not to mention his battles as UCD manager with St Vincent’s in the previous decade in Dublin. His success at all levels of journalism ran in parallel with those days in management.

For generations of GAA writers he remains the ultimate expression of their deepest hope: that if only they were left in charge of the county team they support, there’s no question they could win an All-Ireland.

Rest in peace.

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