That, my friends, was a tough week. It began with the GAA - the cultural North Star we faithfully follow like Levantine shepherds - choosing to conduct their family business the same way all Irish families used to - by picking up their Sunday paper and calmly walking down to the toilet, leaving in their wake two bereft offspring in Glen and Kilmacud, united only in their acute disbelief at their parents' inability to process what they’d just told them.
There was no strategy too grand for HQ not to communicate, no question too obvious for them to act annoyed and uncomfortable about. This was the equivalent of the adult son telling Croke Park that he’s gay in the pub the night before, and then Croke Park choosing not to address it at breakfast. Choosing not to address it at all, actually. Choosing to drop them to the bus the following evening, continuing like nothing was ever said.
They waited for it to go away, and in the end, thanks to Glen's grace, or impatience, or practical reasoning, it did. That thing between families, never to be discussed again. An iceberg, sitting just beneath the surface. There’ll be uncomfortable reminders, of course. Drunk uncles speaking out of turn at weddings, kids blurting out newspaper headlines ignorant to the sting it causes, but things are already back to normal. Order restored. Kilmacud are All Ireland champions and there is no asterisk, with good reason too, as they did nothing wrong. Glen depart the stage perched upon the moral high ground, gracious losers, a footnote in history, involuntarily consigned to supporting actors in future episodes of.
This was one of those debacles which, by the Monday after the game, was upgraded to a fiasco, in large part because of the oxygen the GAA allowed it. When will they learn that, like a kidnapping, it’s the first two hours after the critical event that are most important? There were elements of the Liam Millar testimonial about the entire thing; from the gross misread of the national zeitgeist to the fourth and fifth order effects that misread fertilised. The 2018 testimonial saga exposed a glitch in the GAA’s honourable armour that, although protected by their “Rule 42” (now Rule 5.1, which prohibited the playing of non-GAA games in the association's stadiums), proved ultimately feeble in the court of public opinion.
Then, as now, there was historical baggage to unpack. While “Rule 42” had moral and ethical context to support it, the bylaw was also an uncomfortable reminder of darker times when the GAA issued church-like commandments to its members; “The Ban'' (Rule 27) famously prohibited GAA members from playing or watching “foreign games”, specifically soccer, rugby, cricket, and hockey. There were also Vigilance Committees, a clandestine network of members who attended these foreign games in order to report on their own. The Glen-Kilmacud saga evoked an entirely different conflict within the community; that of regional bias, the dreaded “us versus them” debate, with many feeling that, had roles been reversed in this sorry affair, Kilmacud Crokes would not have been left in the purgatory their Ulster opponents were.
A tale as old as time. In the end, the GAA didn’t have to do anything. Nothing they can tell us about anyway. On Friday night, Glen withdrew their objection, ending the debacle/affair/fiasco. The GAA emerged from the toilet after a long sojourn, newspaper completely read and folded neatly under their arm, relieved the matter was resolved without them having to publicly confront it.
In even better news for the organisation, they were given an unlikely shot at redemption by boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, a man so cartoonish in his charlatanism he wouldn’t be out of place in. Hearn’s assertion that it was the greed of the GAA that was denying the nation the Katie Taylor in Croke Park fight he insisted we so deserve looked, at first swing, to be a shot to the kidneys from which the GAA might not recover. The hysteria which followed saw TDs and reputable broadcasters suggest the government should intervene. That the $500,000 shortfall should be redirected from the Government Jet kitty and used to pay the GAA what they want, so we, the people, could get what we want, even if we didn’t really know it was what we wanted.
What had the early makings of a debacle jumped straight to outright calamity territory by the time Joe Duffy started taking calls on Liveline, where one caller (a boxing man all his life), suggested this was a class issue. What had been an already bad week for the GAA was starting to unravel like an episode of.
Step forward stadium director Peter McKenna, who, with grandfatherly poise, calmly outlined the GAA’s position on the matter, apportioning no blame to anybody, even going so far as to offer a rational solution. It was the most un-GAA-like behaviour imaginable, completely at odds with the clumsy omerta that so defined the club All-Ireland shitshow. Either the GAA is learning, or they knew all along - there are times you just sit and watch the grass grow, and times you mow it. Knowing the difference is all that counts.
In 2016, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo retired from the NFL and jumped straight into broadcasting, joining CBS and their Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz as his co-chair. Eyebrows were understandably raised at the $180m over 10 years the network was reportedly paying Romo, given the history of successful transitions from under-centre to calling games on TV is littered with fumbles and pick sixes.
Despite the suspicion, Romo shone during his period of public probation, drawing rave reviews for his game calling and ability to predict, milliseconds before a snap, how a play might turn out. Romo-mania peaked in 2019 during the AFC Championship between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots, after which the ever-prone to hyperbole US media declared he had called the “perfect game”, earning him the nickname “Romostradamus”.
So far, so special. Well, as with any good sports story, every meteoric rise precedes a calamitous fall, and Romo’s performances in the booth this year have mirrored the worst of his playing career — shouty, vacuous, cliche-riddled, and gaffe-prone. In a neat symmetry, he has gotten progressively worse as the season has progressed. Romo’s performance during last Sunday’s championship game between the Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals lit NFL Twitter on fire. Gone were the erudite predictions, replaced by a series of high-pitched moans and groans, over-enthusiastic cheerleading and one-liners delivered as if Nance had pressed an auto-cue button; HERE WE GO JIM!! followed by equally insightful IT’S GONNA BE CLOSE JIMs!!.
Last week, thereported that CBS executives staged an “intervention” with Romo in the off-season in an effort to reverse the seemingly terminal decline of his announcing career. Maybe he’s quiet-quitting, maybe he’s just going through a mid-TV-life crisis. Maybe $180m doesn't get you what it used to. With Tom Brady joining Fox Sports in the booth next year, the pressure on Romo is only certain to rise.
Still only 20, Adeleke is a third-year scholarship student at the Univerity of Texas. You get the feeling the relative anonymity the NCAA system has afforded her to this point is already a thing of the past. Superstardom beckons.
Could Friday Night Lights be the next innovation to spice up the packed GAA calendar? The popularity of the national leagues was evidenced by the almost 14,000 people in Castlebar on a bitterly cold winter night to watch Mayo and Galway play their first round clash last Saturday week.
Understanding the need to protect the wellbeing of players above all else, Friday night games would add to the considerable attractiveness of these fixtures for fans, while also giving time back to players who may actually get to enjoy the odd free weekend.