Looking past the game face

Last week, in these pages, it was interesting to read the thoughts of Donegal footballer Eamon McGee on the upcoming marriage referendum.

Looking past the game face

McGee told John Fogarty of this parish that he’d agreed to become involved in the campaign for a yes vote in May and had been criticised as a consequence, both on social media and, presumably, in real life as well.

Describing the GAA as a “good indicator”, McGee said: “It comes into every aspect of society, from the cities to the rural communities. I think society in general is coming to accept it but you’re always going to get those one or two traditionalists that are slow to change.”

He added: “If I ever have a child and he or she turns out to be gay, they could say to me ‘you had a chance to make a difference in that vote’. I don’t know would I be more ashamed that I didn’t vote or the fact I voted against it.”

McGee’s candour is laudable for more than one reason. Whether you agree or disagree with his stance is almost beside the point, which is that candour.

A lack of interest among top sports people in wider social issues is so common that it’s excused by reference to those athletes’ uncommon focus on excellence in their fields, or blinkered tunnel vision, as most of us would call it. A sportsman who outlines a clear position on something that doesn’t relate to a disciplinary issue, or a scheduling challenge, or the antipathy of the media towards him or her, is so rare as to be worthy of much further study.

It brings back memories of the question posed at Prussian military academies about their students — should an army officer know nothing but military theory, or have a rounded education in other spheres as well, and which was the path to (military) success? There are exceptions, of course. Former Irish rugby international Trevor Hogan isn’t afraid to make his support of Palestine known in the media. When the Vita Cortex workers were sitting in to secure their rights in Cork, they were backed by Cork City FC and Jimmy Barry-Murphy, the Cork hurling manager. Waterford’s hurlers have backed issues such as cancer service improvement and university status for Waterford IT in the south-east.

The fact that there aren’t that many examples leaping to mind, however, shows the barrenness of the field. I’ve used Stephen Jay Gould’s line here before, about requiring your sports heroes to be good at sport alone and taking anything else as a bonus However, aren’t you infantilising sports people, if not actually treating them like performing bears, if you don’t require them to hold an opinion on a political or social point exercising most reasonably informed people?

That isn’t introducing — by stealth — the notion that sports people should provide better, or more interesting, copy to journalists.

I’m quite aware an athlete with a particular axe to grind could stun the birds out of the sky with boredom, to deploy a phrase coined by one of my writing heroes. But that’s surely a risk worth taking. A few weeks back, when Muhammad Ali wasn’t well, there were fears his illness was more serious than it appeared, which kindled memories of the boxer in his prime — in the ring and out of it. People don’t enjoy being reminded nowadays that the Nation of Islam politicised Ali (its bizarre theology was nicely shredded by Stanley Crouch, among others) but the boxer had views and expressed them, and took the consequences.

Very different to today.

A familiar tale as young stars overburdened

“CARRYING THE LOAD...

Wouldn’t a little common sense come in handy here?

I have to confess to a gaping hole in my knowledge of post-primary sports organisation.

Earlier this week, I was reminded by someone in the office that Rochestown College, lately defeated in the finals of both the Harty Cup and Corn Uí Mhuirí, would be girding their loins for action this weekend in the Croke Cup against St Kieran’s of Kilkenny, courtesy of the back door operating in the competition.

This seems one of the more extraordinary developments I have encountered in a while. You’re aware no doubt of the white noise steaming and hissing away for the last couple of years about burnout and the excessive load placed on vulnerable shoulders in the GAA.

Yet here we have boys in the 16 to 18 years age cohort being flogged through the back door at a time of the year when the club season cranks into action, when county minor trials and training clicks into gear, when promising teenagers are tapped up for U21 action...

All this without even touching on the looming shadow of the Leaving Certificate, the end point for all of these kids.

The more you look at the GAA calendar the more it seems that those most likely to suffer burnout are those most likely to end up togging out week in, week out, in the glorious weather of February or March, with the hard grounds of July and August a distant memory.

With that in mind, wouldn’t a little common sense come in handy here? Some culling of the back doors and second chances in favour of what was once quaintly known as straight knockout, rather than the delayed unconsciousness that the current structures are promoting?

Proving a point in verbal joust at dinner table

In response to a couple of texts and e-mails which landed in the last seven days, the Kingsley Amis memoir is just as good as remembered, and is secured in the panic room at home, so don’t think that a visit will allow your light fingers to purloin same.

Space doesn’t allow me to give you the full flavour of one of the highlights, a dinner table encounter with Enoch Powell, who challenged Amis on his derivation of the word ‘impingement’, and then corrected the memoirist at length on his (self-confessed false) conjugation.

“His eyes were gleaming,” writes Amis, “But not in their corners.

‘I obviously must concede the point to you, Mr Powell,’ I said, feeling like someone in a costume drama, and a prat too.

‘Yes, I think you must.’”

No-win game for Schmidt as aerial strategy falls short

Joe Schmidt: Forced todeploy plan B.

Ah, the damned if you, damned if, etc, of the top class coach.

I note quite the criticism on Saturday evening and Sunday morning of Ireland’s defeat to Wales on the grounds that the ‘aerial game’ didn’t work and a plan B had to be deployed, one which came up short, particularly when a chance of a try was spurned late on.

Yet if the ‘aerial game’ had been pursued and plan B not deployed, would the criticism have been much different? A final observation: at least nobody has drawn the Jack Charlton unattractive-style-but-effective parallels just yet with Joe Schmidt.

Well, apart from now, obviously.

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