DICK CLERKIN: Long grass isn’t a bad place

So, I’m back at the keyboard and looking forward to another Championship season both on and off the field.

The 2011 campaign won’t be one I will recall with any great fondness, bar the huge honour of getting to captain my county. But it’s funny, I’m looking forward to this summer as much as any other before; the long grass isn’t the worst place to be and I’m quietly confident that 2012 could prove more fruitful for Monaghan than many are currently predicting.

They say three of the most stressful things anyone can do is get married, move house and change jobs. So, for the craic, I decided to go and do all three over the winter! Now, I’m a married man, living in Louth, working in Westmeath, and commuting three or four times a week to Monaghan for county and/or club duty. Life as an inter-county footballer has never been so demanding. Every hour is spent trying to balance commitments; but I’m still loving every minute of it. An interesting quote from a friend in the know sums things up: “For the 30-something athlete, the day isn’t about the two hours spent training, it’s more about the 22 that’s not.” Deep...

Reflecting on my first sortie into writing last summer, it would be hard to dispute that I carried a somewhat critical/cynical tone in many of my pieces. So, let’s start things off on a positive note. For me, the GAA Championship is unquestionably The Greatest Show on Turf.

Notwithstanding all the frustrations a Gael has to contend with, the Championship is a wonderfully unique sporting festival that transcends the interaction between sport and community like no other. Yesterday, hordes of supporters flocked to watch the 2012 batch, for whom they have a real and valued affinity, as opposed to the bandwagon passengers we see in rival sports. I don’t care how many Heineken Cup titles are brought to this island, nor if Ireland win the European Championship, the GAA will always rightfully remain the island’s premier sporting organisation, and all of its anomalies arguably add to the charm.

It’s my contention that those outside the realms of the GAA world just don’t get it, and as long as they stand on the outside looking in, they probably never will. Belonging to a small rural club similar to those of Derrytresk and Dromid Pearses, I could not but empathise with both clubs involved in the All-Ireland Junior semi-final saga that clogged the airwaves earlier this year. Those outside of GAA circles will never fully understand the sometimes uncontrollable passion and blind loyalty its members can have for their fellow team-mates and club members. In addition, clubs within the ‘Six Counties, many who have been greatly influenced by political, and in some cases militant events, have degrees of passion and loyalty that many in the other 26 will never be able to fully comprehend. Maybe it’s for this reason that Ulster has a perceived, if unproven, higher rate of indiscipline amongst its grassroots. Maybe it is also the reason they have provided so many outstanding club units and All-Ireland champions in recent times, many of which come from politically hostile areas throughout the province such as South Armagh, West Belfast, and South Derry.

Maybe all of the above are simply symptoms of a community who just care that little bit more about their club unit than everyone else. And maybe they have just cause to do so. Why do players give such levels of commitment for such little comparative return? Why do supporters, otherwise upstanding citizens, get so emotional and irate at matches? Why do so many give their free time to administer and officiate the games? It is because to these players, members, and administrators, the GAA is much more than a pastime, it is central to who they are and their way of life. It is these unbreakable loyalties that will see the GAA endure as the island’s premier sporting body.


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