Throwing barbs and ties: John Costello’s sermon from the mount

The headlines are no surprise, even if the targets are becoming predictable.

Dublin GAA secretary John Costello published his annual report yesterday and, as expected, it was a wide-ranging treatise, a little like the confirmation sermons of Bishop Connie Lucey in Cork long ago, which tended to roam among, and cover, the pressing social issues of the day. Costello’s report, as expected, left stud-marks on the shins of those who begrudge Dublin their dominance of Gaelic football.

“Some of the commentary on our senior footballers and management was eye-catching and I think it would be remiss of me not [sic] to let it pass unchallenged,” writes Costello. “Words such as ‘robots’, ‘automatons’, ‘emotionless’ were used, by a small group of commentators, to describe our management and players on several occasions this summer.

“Concerned by this matter we undertook an examination of the sum of the parts of all involved and am glad to report that no microchips, levers, wires, transistors, relays etc. were discovered!

“However, I can exclusively reveal that we did discover that Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey do have a sixth gear! On a more serious note, I am not sure what purpose this fulfills for some commentators? When we were less successful, we were ridiculed for being too showy etc. — now it’s the opposite.

“Perhaps Jim Gavin should run up and down the sideline during games gesturing to the crowd or throwing water bottles around to show his ‘passion’ or a senior ranking county board official should run to Hill 16 after some victory and throw their tie into the famous terrace?”

Throwing a tie? Whoever could Costello be referring to?

Hitting out at negative commentary is one of the unwritten elements of a county secretary’s brief: The objective of a report like Costello’s is to give the gospel according to Dublin, not objective truth within the GAA world, whatever that might be. Even allowing for the pro forma nature of the retaliation, is it a little tiresome, this reflexive lashing back? Dublin players and management no doubt appreciate the support, but given their focus on the process, how significant to them is that criticism in the first place?

Jim Gavin’s side has been so dominant for so long that GAA people in the capital may have lost sight of an essential truth of competition: Behind the gritted teeth and brisk handshakes at the final whistle, defeat bites deep. There are only so many times opposing players and managers can dredge up the line about having to raise their standards to meet Dublin’s and, for the commentariat, there’s the added challenge of describing yet another blitzkrieg, yet another championship game which, by half-time, is on life support as a competitive fixture.

As always, digging a little deeper into Costello’s report is more rewarding than if you stop at his swatting of critics. Take game development grants: He points out that “the money Dublin has received has been invested in our Games Development programme solely at nursery and juvenile level. Our Go Games programme alone, over the last ten years, has seen a participation growth of 58% in football and 98% in hurling and 11,500 fixtures scheduled annually for children in the Under 8 to Under 12 age groups...”

Costello also points, however, to the pressures that can create: “Everybody is acutely aware of the housing crisis in the country and particularly in the Dublin area. There is huge pressure to build more houses, and quickly.

“This puts even more pressure on land in the county. The result is that sports clubs in Dublin find it increasingly difficult to acquire land and develop facilities as there is already little or no land availability and when there is, the cost is often exorbitant...

“Even beyond Dublin, many schools are built nowadays with no provision for sporting activity — with no fields or land adjoining.

“Too often, the local GAA club has to assist in rectifying this shortcoming...”

In fairness, he offers a potential solution: “NAMA has largely delivered on its remit for both the Government and the taxpayer. Is there a need now to sell off lands in bundles or at unnecessary haste when there could be a potentially major social dividend attached to them?

“... I would be more than happy to work closely with the Government in terms of developing facilities from property that is controlled by NAMA or indeed any other State body.”

He also has a putdown of agitators for fixture reform: “The carping of some former inter-county players, who had no issue being lured to the States when their county was eliminated from the championship but are now insisting on a ‘club comes first’ approach, is interesting to say the least.”

Perhaps the point missed by most observers is an obvious one: Who is the audience for Costello’s pronouncements?

Knowing your audience and what they expect, as Costello does, is yet another unwritten part of the job.


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