JOHN FOGARTY: Our national anthem needs full attention

Support for Wexford’s footballers wasn’t the only thing lacking in Enniscorthy on Sunday. Match programmes were nowhere to be seen, much like the main thoroughfare underneath the stand, which was submerged in flood water.

Given Wexford’s weather difficulties over the Christmas period, the fact the game was played at all was an achievement in itself.

That it had been rescheduled for Enniscorthy having been moved to New Ross was a surprise in itself, given what the River Slaney had done to the town last week.

St Patrick’s Park will host more O’Byrne Cup action tomorrow evening and again on Sunday, but much like this weekend past, there is unlikely to be a rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann.

Not that there has to be; as was pointed out recently, the GAA rulebook states, “where the National Anthem precedes a game, teams shall stand to attention, facing the Flag, in a respectful manner”.

It wasn’t the first time a pre-season game has been without it. Two years ago, there was no lined pitch, never mind A Soldier’s Song sung in Baltinglass for the meeting of Wicklow and Meath’s footballers.

Counties often need some time to get up-and-running and in Wexford’s case they had ample mitigating circumstances.

Still, something didn’t sit quite right about the anthem’s absence. Maybe it was because of the year that’s in it or that Boolavogue, one of the most infamous scenes of the 1798 rebellion, was only 14 kilometres down the road. Maybe it was just we have become so used to hearing it prior to throw-in. None of the above did anything to dissuade our lament at how the song has fallen from grace and been mistreated this past while.

Aside from DJs, no other group has done more to keep the national anthem relevant than the GAA but they now threaten to undo all their good work. We speak not of Jarlath Burns’ excessively diplomatic suggestion to do away with the anthem but how various county boards and provincial councils in recent years have commissioned unaccompanied solo singers to transform a marching song into a vacant husk.

Our national anthem needs full attention

In Croke Park, where it rarely goes without a band, it remains a hymn sung by the masses but outside of it the anthem has become nothing more than something to listen to and to get over with.

There have, though, been efforts to revitalise Peadar Kearney’s most famous work. In Tyrone’s 2015 annual report, it was revealed the Ulster Council have been working with counties to ensure the anthem is “delivered at an appropriate tempo and with correct pronunciation of the words”.

To that end, workshops have been held in the county. For reasons that need no explaining, it’s no surprise that Tyrone should be at the forefront of re-igniting the GAA’s regard for the national anthem. It was also in 2003 that Mickey Harte harnessed the power of the song to help beat Kerry in their iconic All-Ireland semi-final.

“A week before we met Kerry, we stood in a room in Citywest (hotel), singing Amhrán na bhFiann with a ferocity and pleasure that lifted all our hearts. In a week we would stand together in Croke Park again and sing our anthem without missing a word. Breaking down the stereotypes had started before the whistle was even blown.”

Recollecting in his book Presence Is The Only Thing, Harte nailed what the anthem can and should be: a call to action. Ulster counties like Tyrone should be applauded for organising anthem work groups but they too have been guilty of turning what is in essence a marching song into a depressing dirge that players can almost be forgiven for breaking their attention from before the last line has been aired. Heaven knows just how much money in fines the GAA have made as a result but then just how vigilant have they been in policing such behaviour?

As part of hosting the Division 1 and 2 football finals, the GAA will commemorate the centenary of 1916 in Croke Park on April 24, the same date as the Rising begun. If it’s anything like November, when they honoured those who died in GAA HQ on Bloody Sunday, it should be an evocative occasion.

However, if the GAA were to truly reflect their intrinsic link with the country’s national identity and struggle to establish itself, they might look at doing something more lasting. Record a rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann by a group who routinely do it justice like the Artane Boys Band and distribute it to every club is one suggestion.

Even better, make it local and ask the likes of the most reputable Moycarkey Borris Pipe Band and St Michael’s in Enniskillen to give it their best in a studio. PA systems would also have to be updated but better that than the banality it has become in so many venues.

The GAA has a lot of reasons to be comfortable in its skin. Something it has almost made its own, the national anthem, regardless of what some might say, should be one of them.

Counties can think for themselves

Our national anthem needs full attention

The Central Competitions Control Committee’s (CCCC) shortlist of football championship proposals to counties brought to mind what former Dublin boss Pat Gilroy recalled about the sports options he gave to his children: “My father (Jackie) would have been happy for me to play anything as long as it was with Vincent’s and it was football and hurling. My kids have a similar choice.”

The CCCC may have distilled the number of suggestions from 18 to a “recommended” three but of the remaining trio it’s obvious they wish to see a Tommy Murphy Cup-style championship reintroduced for Division 4 teams after the provincial competitions. That also tallies with GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail’s opinion.

The other two, from Carlow (seeded qualifiers) and Longford (round robin provincial championships), are deemed to have too many drawbacks compared to the cut-and-dry second tier idea. If anybody’s in doubt about the strength of the CCCC, they need only remind themselves of how their influence jettisoned the clock/hooter.

What the CCCC want, they usually get but to suggest they are giving counties a choice on this latest matter would be stretching it.

Did concussion influence O’Carroll exit?

Our national anthem needs full attention

“Free spirit” and Rory O’Carroll have been mentioned in the same breath since Jim Gavin revealed his star full-back has quit Gaelic football for at least 2016.

The phrase doesn’t do the defender justice. Last May, he raised concerns about the numbers of times he has suffered concussion in games. “The experts in Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Ireland would say three times is a knockout so if I was to receive another serious concussion I would very seriously consider continuing to play GAA.”

O’Carroll, who wrote to The Irish Times last February about the subject of concussion in rugby, was then asked would he consider retired if he suffered the same head trauma again: “I would, yeah. Your inter-county career, on average 10 years is a good one. Out of your life that could be an eighth so I would rather consider my future life, to be honest.”

On the surface, it doesn’t appear O’Carroll suffered a third concussion but then detecting it is not the most exact of sciences.

At the age of 26, he has three All-Ireland titles and two All-Stars. Refusing to put himself in the firing line in one of the most attritional positions on the Gaelic football field for at least a season isn’t the mark of a free spirit but an intelligent, mature man.


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