I hate to overload you all in a time of crisis, but I now see yet another problem coming over the hill.
The GAA AGM in the age of covid.
This is going to be one of the true challenges.
The annual meeting is a ritual all to itself, a complex set of rules and behaviours that would baffle any anthropologist. The subtlety of the canvassing and the subtext of the speeches are areas of study unto themselves, while the background to the nominations process per se, the intricate network of coaxing and invitation, has puzzled outsiders for years.
As for the financial accounts which are discussed at the AGM, adopt the viewpoint of a man who probably contributed to a few annual meetings of the Florence Gaels in his time.
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass on.
On a serious note, the challenge of running an AGM responsibly and/or remotely — I’m not entirely convinced those two Rs can be combined — is tricky for any number of reasons.
For instance, many of those who traditionally go to the AGM are in a vulnerable age bracket, for one thing. Usually in the couple of weeks before the event an effort is made to get a turn-out, to involve people, to get them to present themselves in order to participate in their club’s future.
Here you’re looking to do the exact opposite: trying to get people to stay away, to keep their distance, to remain at home at all costs.
Or are you?
Take the delicate business of voting for officers. The praetors and quaestors of Constantinople would be stumped by the trade-offs and haggling for appointment to roles — and to get out of roles, in many cases — in GAA clubs all over Ireland from autumn onwards, but the ballot box is still the ultimate arbiter.
How is a simple vote for chairman organised in the socially-distanced present, however?
Is a ballot box left in the clubhouse for those who wish to vote? Can the vote be taken effectively on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, particularly if a secret ballot is required or requested?
All of this parks one of the most effective side effects of the AGM, which is the gathering of club members together for informal discussions before and after the main event. (No, it is not just pints.)
Granted, the post-meeting discussion can be one of rancour and disappointment, but there’s an unspoken message in the mere fact that it takes place.
The club has made it through another year, and there’s been a full schedule of action. It was probably less than fulfilling on the field of play simply because on the law of averages most clubs don’t bring home a cup, or at least the cup it wants most.
But that’s neither here nor there. What counts is that the club is still going. The dream lives, the one that was conceived decades ago outside Mass one Sunday, or under a street light, or among schoolmates strolling home or — as happens now in countries all over the world — online, far from home.
The club carries on and has made it through another year, and even if this year was disappointing next year may be an improvement.
The AGM is the recurring chance for members of a club to tangle and disagree but it also affords them a subliminal connection. Everyone — or everyone that’s available — is in the one place at the one time with the one objective: improving the club.
That physical togetherness underlines the communal aspiration of the club, and it explains why a remotely-run AGM can never be as effective as the real thing.
When I said it was a problem I was being serious, believe me.
Sometimes the two things just happen at the right time, and you end up saying a prayer to the patron saint of sports columnists, whose feast day I must really winkle out some time.
Not this week, though, because these pages yielded the perfect counterpoint of opinions on the one topic within a couple of days of each other.
During the week I asked Donach O’Donnell, coach of O’Callaghan’s Mills, what he thought of the newly-invented water-break, particularly as it had been a significant watershed in his side’s Clare SHC semi-final win: “I love them, I think they’re great. You’ve just time for a quick few words and you send them back out.
“There’s usually some bit of information you can give them — ‘we’re losing puckouts on the left, their midfielder’s pulling across’ — and you ask the wing-backs and midfielders to adjust accordingly.
“There’s just time for one or two messages, so you’re not overloading them either with information, it’s ideal.” As a neat contrast, Kerry footballer Paul Murphy had exactly the opposite opinion, telling this paper that the water-break “ . . .is killing momentum for teams and it's allowing teams to settle down.
“I don’t think the GAA at the top level are hugely fond of the runners with the water bottles, which might lead to the water breaks becoming permanent long-term. I would prefer a straight run of it to half-time and full-time. I am not a fan.” The point here is not that either man was wrong, but to be grateful they offered two sides of the same coin at just the right time for your columnist’s purposes.
The death took place last week of Jimmy O’Rourke, a name that may be known to a particular cohort of GAA people in Cork.
This is partly explained by a line in his death notice, which will chime with an entire generation of Cork people. He was associated with “Glen Rovers, Gouldings and (the) Pioneer Movement”, a triumvirate which, when yoked together, conjure an entire world - some parts of it now vanished - for many readers.
But the main reason many of us were aware of Jimmy O’Rourke was because he had the ultimate GAA posting, a vantage point we all envied: for many years he was the scoreboard operator in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, keeping tabs on ferocious clashes at all levels - underage, club, colleges, intercounty.
He wouldn’t have been impressed with the mix-up in scores at last Saturday night’s UCC-Blackrock game there, but still: the sights he must have seen from that little square window. Ar dheis De go raibh se.
Very sad to see another death notice last week. Harold Evans, a legendary newspaper editor of the old school — or perhaps the school they tore down to build the old school — passed away in New York at the age of 92.
Evans’s papers exposed the scandal of thalidomide in Britain; in latter years he headed up publishers Random House and also founded Conde Nast Traveller.
If you want to know his standards, pick up a copy of Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers, which he co-wrote with Crawford Gillan. Whether you fall into one of the first two categories or not, we are all writers now, so why not learn to do it properly?