Time GAA put a lid on fictitious Hill 16 tale

February 24, 2007. One of Irish sport’s greatest days. One of the GAA’s proudest too, as rugby and England were made welcome in Croke Park. 

Time GAA put a lid on fictitious Hill 16 tale

Brian O’Driscoll and company also played their part as the visitors were bagged and tagged in the red carpet that had been laid out for them prior to the game.

Covering rugby as a second sport to Gaelic games for my previous employers at the time, the Irish Mail on Sunday, my colleagues and I were seated in the press box located in the Hogan Stand alongside those from our UK “sister” newspaper. Looking out at the impressive vista for the first time, one of them commented: “Nice stadium,” before nodding to his left, “but when is it going to be finished?”

Rather than take grievance, a potted lesson on the sacredness of Hill 16 put him right. Clearly, he hadn’t read his own newspaper earlier in the month when Patrick Collins, the doyen of Britain’s sportswriters, had encapsulated the poignancy of the forthcoming game taking place at GAA headquarters. Collins had referred to Bloody Sunday, 1920 just as he had nodded to the sacredness of Hill 16, part of which, he informed readers, was initially comprised by “the rubble of the Dublin GPO”.

Except, Collins had been sold a pup, the same mongrel of a story bought by generation after generation of Irish people as genuine as the sentiments of the Celtic jersey-wearing protestor holding the “No to Foreign Games” placard outside the stadium that eponymous spring day nine years ago.

Since TG4’s “Cnoc 16” documentary, the GAA’s depiction of its most fabled edifice has been eroded more and more. Irish Examiner columnist Dr Paul Rouse has been at the forefront of debunking the myth of Hill 16, citing former GAA president Dan McCarthy’s warped description of Croke Park as “sacred ground... sanctified by blood of martyrs”. Known as Hill 60 after a Gallipoli battle in World War I, the terrace was erected the November prior to the monumental events of Easter 100 years ago.

The recent and welcome discussions about the role sport played in the Rising have shone further light on the GAA’s unfortunate, little secret. Speaking alongside Rouse on Newstalk last month, Dr Mike Cronin corroborated his colleague’s claim: “It’s a crazy idea that (The) O’Rahilly’s car was buried among the rubble (beneath Hill 16).”

Considering the GAA and the nationalist ideal were so entwined in the early half of the 20th century , it was understandable the association’s officials were so determined to deceive. They complemented one another and the parallels in traction were obvious. Interestingly, when it appeared the GAA would be forced to make Hill 16 an all-seater in 1999, then PRO Danny Lynch never made the rubble argument but instead cited “the impending end of a 100-year-old tradition for generations of Dublin fans”.

The GAA, though, have maintained the pretence. The Croke Park website currently reads: “In the aftermath of the Rising rubble from the bombed out buildings on O’Connell Street was brought to Croke Park to construct a viewing mound for spectators at the north end of the stadium. This mound became known as Hill 16.” Nowhere on the website is there a mention of the terrace’s original name.

Last year, a leading GAA official was asked if Hill 16 could ever be developed further so as to “complete” the stadium in the round. He dismissed the suggestion, stating the preservation of the terrace on its own as a matter of historical importance.

The saddest aspect about the organisation’s determination to keep up the charade is how unnecessary it is. Bloody Sunday will forever enshrine Croke Park’s importance in the creation of the Irish Republic. Yet it doesn’t seem enough.

The 16 in Hill 16 may as well refer to the 16th man support provided to Dublin’s footballers. Its historical value starts and ends in a sporting tradition unless you want to rank the ruse up there alongside Brazilian midfielder Socrates playing Sigerson Cup football.

Living in Sydney some years back, I worked in The Hero of Waterloo pub in The Rocks area, where staff were encouraged by the proprietor to accentuate the establishment’s history of “Shanghaiing” punters to serve as sailors. It was recommended an embellished ghost story be thrown in for good measure. All harmless poppycock for the sake of giving the customers what they wanted.

Spinning the Hill yarn as they did, there was plenty of method in the GAA’s thinking but enough should be enough? Giving truth to that lie devalues Croke Park’s storied history, particularly the memories of Michael Hogan and the other 13 people who died in the stadium on November 21, 1920.

If and when debate about roofing the entire stadium comes round again, may it be financial not fabricated nostalgia that directs GAA’s thinking. By all means retain the terrace but finally putting a lid on the fictitious tale that has been perpetuated would be preferable.

Misjudged rush to castigate McCarthy

Social media contributors were falling over themselves to condemn Dublin’s James McCarthy as an eye-gouger following their clash with Donegal.

One of the arguments made against McCarthy was something not of his own doing. After Philly McMahon’s incident with Kieran Donaghy in September’s All-Ireland final, it was as if McCarthy was automatically guilty. Dirty Dubs and all that.

The All-Ireland champions may have form when it comes to biting incidents but bracketing McCarthy’s act in the same category as McMahon’s is too easy as it is erroneous. McMahon’s interference with Donaghy’s eye area didn’t require slow-motion to be detected. McCarthy’s did. Donaghy claimed McMahon gouged him on the ground. Donegal, who haven’t been slow to point the finger of blame at Dublin for wrongdoing in the past, immediately played down the incident.

By making contact with Martin McElhinney’s face, McCarthy gave referee Conor Lane enough reason to show him a straight red card. He should count himself fortunate that he was shown a second yellow. However, to categorically state he gouged is a stretch. In real time, the contact made between his right thumb and McElhinney’s left eye area is minimal in duration as it is in force. The Central Competitions Control Committee may think otherwise but they pride themselves on making judgements on un-edited footage.

Pitch conditions an issue for GPA to tackle

Should the weekend’s games in Healy and Hyde Park have gone ahead?

Looking at stewards struggling to brush away pools of water on each pitch, you couldn’t help but think the referees should have erred on the side of caution and postponed the matches as a duty of care towards the players.

That belief was cemented watching those from Tyrone, Armagh, Roscommon and Mayo then struggle to negotiate the conditions. The wet ‘n’ wild photographs from each venue hardly painted the GAA in a good light. That the games were televised live didn’t help matters but we’ve seen before where broadcasted matches have been called off because of adverse weather conditions. That it was the penultimate weekend of the league may have come into the decision-making process too. There is little time remaining in the competition. A postponement would have been unwelcome particularly ahead of next weekend where, for the sake of fairness, the throw-ins of all final round fixtures are at the same time. Expediency here, though, loses out to welfare and optics. The GPA state they bring player welfare issues to the GAA behind closed doors. What happened in Omagh and Roscommon should be on their agenda at their next meeting.

Predicted Division 1 finishing places:

1. Dublin; 2. Kerry; 3. Roscommon; 4. Donegal; 5. Cork; 6. Mayo, 7. Monaghan, 8. Down.

  • Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 

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