Always looking, always thinking.
Many thanks to the man who tipped me off about a new book coming down the tracks — Gaelic Games in Society: Civilising Processes, Players, Administrators, and Spectators by John Connolly and Paddy Dolan.
That kind of title sets off an alarm in my brain straight away, so I tracked John down to his office in DCU.
We were chatting in general terms about the fact that — without any special pleading on its behalf — the GAA’s unique position in Irish society surely makes it an ideal subject for people studying that society.
John pointed out that sport reflects its society, and the evolution in that society: “What’s very much part of this book is incorporating the general changes in Irish society at the time, the impact that has.
“For example, think how the relationship between men and women has become more equal — or less unequal maybe — in a couple of generations. In a specific GAA context, it’s interesting to see how GAA administrators used to refer to players in the 60s, saying that they (the players) didn’t have a voice in the universities, so why would they have a voice in the GAA?
“That starts to shift as the decades roll on and people’s thinking changes.”
Somewhere else there’s been a change in thinking is on the whole issue of professionalism. Connolly pointed out something that many observers and commentators are slow to acknowledge.
“Also, the GAA has never been what you might call pristine amateur. Never. From its inception there were contraventions of that pristine amateurism as that relative balance shifts over time, becoming less amateur or more amateur.
“We point that out but there’s also a crystallisation of the meaning and value of amateurism over the decades. Part of that, ironically, is linked to the GAA being established originally with almost no connection to what we could call the upper classes.
“When the GAA was being established both soccer and rugby were riddled with tensions over amateurism because the upper classes were involved in those codes and were, in a sense, increasingly trying to stigmatise professionalism for the working class groups involved.
“The GAA didn’t have that. The social groups involved were more lower middle class and upper working class, and because of that they had a more accommodating approach to professionalism and amateurism. It wasn’t planned, but many of them worked six days a week and could only play on Sundays, so they had a more accommodating approach to issues like expenses.
“That acted almost like a valve. The irony here is that early in the 20th century as the GAA was stigmatising soccer, it was operating broken-time payments. The GAA didn’t describe itself then as amateur and was stigmatising soccer because it was a competitor.”
This is exactly what people either don’t know or wilfully avoid when talking about the GAA and where it’s going. There’s an insistent focusing on some kind of romantic pastoral, a time when men insisted on lining out for their counties at their own expense. That may have existed, but we know that a form of professionalism — or a version of compensation for play, to be more precise — definitely existed.
For these and other reasons I look forward to Connolly and Dolan’s book appearing on the bookshelves. My bookshelf, to be specific.
The departure of Jim Gavin as Dublin manager has sparked what will in time be described as the seven stages of accommodation.
First comes surprise at the news. Then the dissection of his successes with Dublin begins: that’s where we are now.
After that expect the time of revisionism, in which sundry ‘experts’ point to the lack of top-class opponents his side faced.
This will be followed, as night follows day, by the resurrection of Gavin’s reputation as the greatest football manager of all time.
Stage five is the gloom that will linger in Dublin as the realisation sets in. Stage six? The burgeoning arrogance in Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone, and other supposed heartlands now their nemesis is gone.
Stage seven? You’ll truly know that’s arrived the first time someone says — in a ripe Dublin accent — after an All-Ireland final, “Ye couldn’t do it when Jim was there, could ye?”
Elsewhere on the page I referred to where the GAA is going.
There are signs of that everywhere if you want to look. If you’re a habitual visitor then last Saturday you probably saw the coverage of the Cork County Board’s disastrous financial situation.
Cork secretary Kevin O’Donovan also noted he is in regular contact with Croke Park to discuss ongoing issues with Páirc Uí Chaoimh; other issues are no doubt ventilated in those conversations.
Earlier in the week GAA Director-General Tom Ryan indicated his willingness to meet with Mayo donor Tim O’Leary to resolve the impasse in that county.
Last month this newspaper reported the Galway County Board, another unit experiencing financial problems, requested the Central Council of the GAA to carry out extensive examination of its finances.
Pressure of space keeps me from listing other counties.
The default position for many GAA people is to see this as creeping centralisation of power within the Association, a slow, subtle way of curtailing the autonomy of county boards.
This scenario tends to depict Croke Park as a Barad-dûr on Jones’s Road, seeking all power for itself.
Yet looking at the evidence, who could argue against that? If county boards wish to remain autonomous and independent, shouldn’t they show they’re capable of doing so?
You’re probably exhausted by the endless references to Clive James’s brilliant TV criticism, not to mention the brilliant TV shows themselves.
Then there’s the series of biographical books, starting with Unreliable Memoirs (the dunny-man!).
Because James never met a human experience he couldn’t pin with a pithy line, sport came easily to him. John McEnroe looked as if “serving around the corner of an imaginary building” while.
“Even in moments of tranquillity, Murray Walker sounds like a man whose trousers are on fire”.
Growing up in Australia gave James an interest in sports of that era. He liked swimming but “could not bear going up and down the pool, up and down the pool.
Two years before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, I could swim stroke for stroke across the creek at the end of my street with Gary Chapman, who took the silver medal at the Olympics in the 100m. Unfortunately, in those two years he grew 18 inches.”
If you’re looking for something for Christmas, give Cultural Amnesia a go: it rewards the odd visit, even if there’s a touch of the ‘my preferred version of book X is in the original Hungarian.’
Stick with it and you won’t be sorry. Rest easy, Clive.