Sport and the presidency

If I mention the race for the Áras, will you turn the page? You won’t? Many thanks.

Sport and the presidency

Having observed from a safe distance the — is ‘dysfunctional farrago’ too hard? Too soft? — race for nominations, it surprises me that more people haven’t applied a metric which is one of the unspoken tests in presidential races across the water.

No, no the religion question (as in, what belief system have the focus groups suggested is least objectionable to mouth-breathers at the ballot box?) but the sport question.

As in, what’s your sport?

Good taste and a weak stomach at this hour of the morning mean we can pass over the current US President, whose main sporting interest amounted to sinking a fledgling American football league (per Jeff Perlman’s new book about the USFL).

However, his predecessors were closely identified with particular sports. Barack Obama played basketball while in office, George W. Bush had been the managing general partner of a professional baseball team and Bill Clinton’s love of golf was well known.

Go back further: Gerald Ford was a well-regarded American football player himself and Richard Nixon an American football obsessive, Dwight Eisenhower popularised golf, John F. Kennedy sailed, Teddy Roosevelt saved American football...

How about here?

In some ways this is like shooting fish in a barrel, because one of those in the running for the Aras, Gavan Duffy, has already been trying to defend his membership of the Louth Hunt.

Someone like Sean Gallagher, on the other hand, has a far better handle on how sport plays to the electorate. You can barely turn on the television but he’s there flinging people around while in his karate/judo persona — but always onto the mat in a controlled fashion, friendly pat on the arm afterwards: strongman leader shows compassion to those submitting to his direction. That’s the keynote.

Gallagher has also gone on the record with his love of the GAA, and how powerful a community adhesive the Association is, etc. etc.

(See? Rugged individualist and committed to voluntary groups, all at once. Watch the polling numbers soar!)

Senator Joan Freeman, meanwhile, who has also managed to secure a nomination to run for president, is best known for founding mental health charity Pieta House, an organisation that is closely associated with many sports and athletes.

Dublin footballer and All-Ireland winner Paul Flynn, mental health advocate and Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara and legendary GAA commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh were at a 2017 Pieta House Bereavement Services launch in Croke Park
Dublin footballer and All-Ireland winner Paul Flynn, mental health advocate and Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara and legendary GAA commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh were at a 2017 Pieta House Bereavement Services launch in Croke Park

Last December it collaborated with Basketball Ireland, for instance, on mental health support, and 18 months ago Dublin footballer Paul Flynn, Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara, commentator Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, and GAA Director General Páraic Duffy helped launch the organisation’s new brochure in Croke Park. Well embedded, then.

The difficulty for me in evaluating their challenges is that the incumbent fills the role to perfection. After a few Presidents who got out and about — and one who got out, literally, ahead of time — I find Michael D. Higgins more in line with the Presidents I grew up with, Paddy Hillery in particular.

Quiet and dignified and not in the habit of drawing attention to themselves, even when their county won an All-Ireland for the first time in over 80 years (exhibit A, that same Paddy Hillery).

Is it an accident that Michael D. Higgins is a fan of sport? He was president of League of Ireland side Galway United before he became President of Ireland. He always hits the right note when being introduced to players

at internationals and All-Irelands.

He may even be the first European head of state to hit the right X-Games note, witness his famous picture astride a BMX at the Sea Sessions.

Best of luck to Duffy, Gallagher, and Freeman, but I think this race has already been won by the man on the Voodoo Zaka.

Feast of reading material for sports fans

Less-than-gruntled reader gets in touch, saying, “I know you like your books about the California tiddly-wink champions of 1978, but what about those of us who aren’t moved to tears by tales of derring-do across the Atlantic? Anything for us to read?”

I’ve mentioned Paul Rouse’s The Hurlers as a good one this autumn from Penguin Ireland, and I understand they have books coming from Cora Staunton and on Dublin (GAA) in the bad old days.

Andy Lee’s story from Gill should be an excellent read too, while the same publisher is bringing out another instalment of Davy Fitzgerald’s life story.

Mercier Press have issued The First Sunday in September by Tadhg Coakley already, and The Lost Soul of Eamon Magee this year as well, while Collins Press have a good one coming out about Cork in the 80s (I’ve warned you about this — ed) but, ah, we’ll talk about that another time.

When a testimonial is not a testimonial

News landed during the week of another testimonial, this time in the world of rugby. Munster and Ireland icon Donncha O’Callaghan will have a bash ahead of the Ireland-New Zealand game in Dublin with the proceeds going to UNICEF, for which he has been an ambassador for many years.

Pencil this one alongside the dinner planned for Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, the one for Dr Con Murphy . . . the tuxedo won’t get a chance for a spin in the tumble dryer at this rate.

There’s still a rumbling disaffection in GAA circles with the very notion of testimonials, though. Arising out of the Colm Cooper bash, hackles have been raised.

Opposition has been articulated. However, as noted in this corner of the paper before, a lot of that opposition relates to the terminology, as opposed to the concept.

The Ó Muircheartaigh-Murphy events, for instance, aren’t designed to benefit the two men being honoured — they’re taking none of the funds being raised — so are they truly testimonials if the central character in the drama isn’t bringing home a sackful of notes?

I doubt it. In that case, if the events weren’t called testimonials, but what they are — benefit dinners — no-one would have an issue.

Before departing as GAA director-general Páraic Duffy was quite strong on his opposition to testimonials (“I’m very clear on this — our organisation does not want testimonials. We are an amateur organisation — we don’t reward our players financially.”)

Yet Duffy admitted there isn’t a lot the GAA can do to stop testimonial-type events. If they’re renamed, even less can be done. If they are not actually testimonials in the first place, what exactly needs to be done?

More silverware on show in Limerick

News lands of an interesting commemoration taking place in Ardagh, Limerick, over the next couple of weekends.

If the village name is familiar, congrats on remembering your primary-school history.

In 1868 the Ardagh Chalice was found nearby, and the St Kieran’s Heritage Association is holding a number of commemorative events.

Why is this here in the sports pages? Famously, the Sam Maguire Cup is based on the Ardagh Chalice, and that trophy will be making a visit to the village on the weekend of the 21st, if you care to see it in an unusual context, by which I mean outside Croke Park.

If you want to learn more about the chalice, and the festivities which are being held to commemorate the 150th anniversary, then consult the St Kieran’s Heritage Association on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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