I don’t doubt that Larry McCarthy, the new president of the GAA, has plenty of issues clogging up his in-tray at the moment, but I’d still like to see if I can squeeze in another headache or two.
Last week McCarthy conceded that recent revelations about teams breaching lockdown to train had harmed the GAA, saying: “It has done us reputational damage, but we will work to get that back.”
This was the part of McCarthy’s comments which drew the eyeballs, but there was an interesting addendum: “But we’ll continue to work to get that confidence back from the public again... I’m looking forward much more to the 26th and having kids back. And then we can show what we really do in the communities.”
Despite a good deal of bluster being spouted about the safety of groups meeting outdoors, McCarthy was correct: The GAA has done great work in communities all over Ireland in the last 12 months or so, great work that risks being wasted if these breaches continue (not to mind the danger posed to the entire country’s chances of a half-normal summer).
By focusing more on communities and kids than the breaches by county senior teams, he moved the spotlight back on what the GAA has done well, not what it’s done badly.
This was supported by a reaction that went beyond rhetoric.
The move by Croke Park to nullify the suspension imposed by the Dublin County Board on football manager Dessie Farrell was a striking one, and will surely be followed by a similar decision regarding the suspension imposed by Monaghan officials on their manager, Seamus ‘Banty’ McEneaney.
For those of us who like to pick through the entrails of GAA decisions, it’s an intriguing move for other reasons also.
Take the reference in reports to the GAA’s decision that these county boards were acting ‘ultra vires’, for instance. While the term induced a cold sweat in this columnist as he recalled his past life listening to lengthy Oireachtas debates on the terms of reference of various tribunals and other bodies — debates in which ‘ultra vires’ appeared over and over again — it opens up the possibility that some other decisions made by county boards may have also been outside their legal capabilities.
The concept of what is and what isn’t the proper province of a county board exercises the minds of club secretaries all over Ireland.
Finding flexibility and room to manoeuvre in the black and white rules of the GAA is a cottage industry from Malin to Mizen, whether the issue at hand is a contested inter-club transfer or a scheduled fixture which doesn’t suit one or both clubs involved.
This is why taking the power to suspend from the Dublin and Monaghan County Boards in these instances will have hob lawyers in clubhouses everywhere paying close attention to how these situations play out in the coming weeks.
And why the phrase ‘ultra vires’ will no doubt appear in many a submission in the coming months.
As noted here before, the original sin of GAA presidential candidates has always been the token nod while campaigning to the club as the keystone of the entire organisation, and a declaration that the club is destined to be the focus of his term in office...
Ironic, then, that a weapon to help clubs challenge county boards has popped up so early in this president’s term in office.
I’m (still) not an epidemiologist, which is why you don’t see me brandishing percentages and numbers as though extrapolating truths universally acknowledged. I know my weaknesses.
Would that we all did, of course. I note a rise in definite pronouncements on social media from people on when and how sport — and spectators — should return.
I was interested, then, to see The New York Times refer to an intriguing piece of research in The Lancet. (A publication which features real-life epidemiologists.)
Having studied data from American football games, many of which had large numbers of fans in attendance last season, Justin Kurland of the University of Southern Mississippi and his fellow authors’ research “suggested that there was a link between the games that had large numbers of fans in the stands and an increase in the number of (Covid) infections in locales near the stadiums”.
What was almost as interesting, however, were the caveats entered by Kurland and his colleagues, conceding “that their research only shows that two events — games with fans and increasing positive Covid-19 rates — coincided. “Other events like political rallies, the reopening of colleges or holiday travel may have contributed to an increase in infections, especially in states where preventive measures like the wearing of masks were less widely adopted.”
This is the kind of nuance that’s missing from many of the more hysterical calls for action on sport and supporters. One public health expert summed the issue up neatly.
“The correlations can only point out the possibilities, not the causation,” said Bruce Y Lee, of the City University of New York School of Public Health.
Experts admitting to uncertainty, eh? If only some vocal amateurs would do the same.
I was very sorry to read last week of the passing of Packie McGarty, one of Leitrim’s greatest footballers.
He had the misfortune to play at a time when the knockout championship was in vogue, which meant that a player’s intercounty season might start at 3pm on a Sunday and be over in time for an early tea the same day.
McGarty’s quality couldn’t be dimmed, however, even in the face of special treatment by players from counties big enough to know better, if I can be euphemistic about it.
Anyway, when your columnist was starting out in this game and very unsure of his ground, he made an appointment to meet Packie McGarty in Macroom one afternoon; an upcoming GAA President’s Award was the premise for the chat.
I got a lift out to Macroom the same day and, when my chauffeur asked how I got on, I said that if Packie McGarty was half as classy on the field as he had been over a cup of tea in the Castle Hotel then he deserved all the awards the president could dish out.
We had a great chat, and he told a story from his early days, when he thought dishing out an elbow in the opening minutes might help put his direct opponent on notice. When he did so, however, his marker simply looked at him and said: “I play football.”
“I felt ashamed,” said Packie McGarty that afternoon in Macroom. “I said to myself that I’d never do that again.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Many thanks to Profile Books for sending on Rachel Kushner’s book, The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000-2020.
Some of the car and bike restoration detail went over my head, but some of the pieces’ depiction of the mid-90s Bay Area bar scene certainly hit home. No shortage of a Hard Crowd in a few of those spots, as I recall.
I was also impressed by her insistence that pronouncing Marguerite Duras with a hard S is the preferred option for reasons directly related to her place of origin, and the influence of the Gascon language (‘not considered chic’, as Kushner puts it).
I was glad that my terrible French pronunciation all those years ago was proved correct, even if it was inadvertent.