The end of a dream in our sporting future imperfect

THE grey-haired man looked down into the tar barrel. The fire was dying and the warmth ebbing away, so he drew his hooded top a little closer and rummaged in his bag.

He was about to throw in the last of the wadded newspaper to feed the flames when he noted December 6, 2020, across the top of the page.

Ten years, he thought; 10 years since the budget which had started it all, almost to the day.

He smiled grimly, thinking of the impact of that budget. Canceling all funding for sport had certainly grabbed headlines in those gloomy days before mysterious Chinese venture capitalists had leveraged the Irish debt and renamed the island Pong Kong, or not-so-fragrant harbour.

The intervening decade had been unkind to every sport; when the man flicked to the sports sections of the paper in his hands, he saw quotes from those two grizzled old veterans, Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald, about the derby they’d just played in.

Granted, Earls was new to Biarritz after years in Northampton, but Fitzgerald was one season away from a testimonial with Toulouse. At this stage reporters had abandoned the standard question about how their careers would have gone if they’d stayed in Ireland, given they and dozens of other professionals had vanished from the provinces after the 2010 budget withdrew all sporting tax breaks.

Munster and Leinster and the rest were forced to revert to amateur players, and the crowds dwindled accordingly.

Not that other sports were doing much better. Further down the page the man noted another derby, this time in the Air Galway League of Ireland.

Of course, it was hard to avoid such derbies when nine of the 10 teams in the league’s top flight were in Galway, but who could blame the FAI when every soccer ground in Dublin had been occupied by militant auctioneers early in 2011? Initial polite protests about property tax had been replaced by savage street fights, roaming gangs and, it was rumoured, cannibalism. The man remembered a trip to the capital last year — by horse and cart, naturally — which had passed the Dalymount Real Estate Professionals Against Property Tax encampment.

The ragged suits. The mobile on an altar. The skull on a spike. He shivered.

He shook his head as he read on: more comments from John Delaney on his pay; could they not leave the poor man alone, he thought? Surely even gutter journalists expected the Archbishop of Dublin to live on more than 50 yuan a year? More trouble with the GAA too, he noted. The Continuity GPA seemed to be at loggerheads with the Real GPA again, but now there seemed to be a splinter group, the Real Continuity GPA (Official), which stated that it held true to the original commitments to player welfare as espoused in the previous century.

Don’t they all, thought the man with a wry smile; well, they’ll be doing some job to get any concessions from the GAA’s incoming President, Cusack from Cork. His main challenge was to get games played for the first time since the Revenue crackdown on managers back in January 2011 had brought the All-Ireland championships to a screeching halt; the complaints of players who hadn’t played a meaningful match in 10 years wouldn’t be as pressing.

A final paragraph caught his eye — Katie Taylor was “hopeful”, according to a reporter, of being allowed to box in the 2024 Olympics. He frowned as he thought of the long disappointments of her career — that water-rate uprising in Carlow and Wexford early 2012 which ruled out Irish participation in the London Olympics, and the IOC’s expulsion of Ireland for the two subsequent games for “bringing down the euro”. Poor kid, he thought, beforereminding himself that by the 2024 Olympics — to be staged in Kaliningrad — Taylor would be 38.

The man threw the paper into the barrel and watched it curl in the flames, showing the front page: the Pádraig Harrington and Paul O’Connell-led coalition had bowed to the inevitable and would go to the country in a spring general election. He shook his head. Overhead the seagulls called.

* Contact: ; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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