Brolly’s bark is worse than his bite

Saying that you admire and respect Joe Brolly in Kerry is in the same parish as an Israelite claiming to like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

They just don’t get Joe down here.

It didn’t help when he declared the last All-Ireland winning Kerry team of over three years ago to be “in terminal decline” halfway through their stuttering ~qualifier campaign of 2009.

The further assertion that this Kerry team have always failed when it is really put up to them smacked of someone looking for attention but it was his remarks about the Gooch that really did it for many.

It enraged people that he should question Colm Cooper’s ability to get Kerry out of a hole in mid-summer this year.

Colm is one of the most revered players in the history of the great game in the Kingdom, and while I know Brolly has a genuine respect for him, some of his remarks about Cooper did not sit well with the Kerry public.

The fact that he appeared to be titillated by the reaction to his criticism of Gooch really bugged people: “I have to have my fun as well. Where am I supposed to get my kicks?” was the response when pressed to explain his apparently daft observations. Kerry folk were indignant and Derry Joe was about to replace the other Joe, Cavan referee Joe McQuillan, at the top of their GAA hate list.

The football people of Cork, Mayo and many more counties besides have had reason to resent Brolly’s observations on the game from the penny pulpits of the print and broadcast media too.

He never held back this summer when he felt the occasion arose and it became a past-time in itself watching the anti-Brolly bile pour forth on the social media.

But to view Joe Brolly’s frequent contributions to the big debates ongoing in the GAA community as self serving or petty misses the point completely.

Of all the GAA analysts I know, he is the least self-regarding of them all and quite often the most engaging. Nobody understands more the massive privilege afforded those who are able to contribute in a meaningful way to the issues of the day in Gaelic games.

No matter how vehemently you might oppose his point of view and no matter how entrenched he becomes, you always sense that he recognises the importance of retaining a bond of civility and friendship throughout.

It was that spirit of community and brotherhood that I believe led him to donate one of his kidneys last October to Shane Finnegan, a man he only got to know over a year previously but with whom he shared a common bond of Gaelic Games promotion in the St Brigid’s club in Belfast.

In the ultimate act of sporting selflessness and altruism, Joe Brolly and Shane Finnegan underwent surgery in Guys Hospital in London with Brolly describing his sacrifice as a “very small gesture on my part”.

Sadly, the operation failed. We can’t begin to imagine the devastation being felt by both men and their families but with typical resilience Joe is now working on an outline of a new organ-donor law that may be introduced on an all-Ireland basis.

The problem now, as Paddy Heaney outlined on these pages a while back, is that there are thousands of angry GAA fans across the country who can’t reconcile Joe’s compassion and humility with the personality they see on their TV screens.

He will no doubt return bolder and unrepentant to cast a cold eye on some of our biggest and best players. I have no doubt he will be as rigorous as ever in his scrutiny of Kerry and perhaps even of Colm Cooper but maybe, just maybe, his actions last autumn will force us to view him differently come next summer.

It’s over 20 summers ago now that he entered the public consciousness with his madcap goal celebrations and carefree spirit. He got his head busted more than once because he stood out from the crowd. Indeed on one occasion in a Railway Cup game in Clones in 1996, I saw first-hand how he got his nose broken by one of my team-mates just for being Joe Brolly.

I am proud to say that I’ve gotten to know him a small bit in the years since and although we speak only occasionally, you always sense his love of the GAA shine through. He is one of a kind — a sportsman, a character and a man whose actions speak even louder than his many words.

For that, Joe Brolly is my Sportsperson of the Year 2012.

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