It goes without saying that the most remarkable line from last Friday’s GAA statement concerning their initial decision to say no to the Liam Miller charity soccer game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was the admission they had sought legal advice to substantiate their point.

That they did so would have perfectly understandable but to publicise it was an error that only exacerbated the situation.

But what was almost as significant was the first line: “The GAA is prohibited in rule from hosting games other than those under the control of the Association in its stadia and grounds.”

Anyone who follows GAA politics — and we suspect many more will tune into next year’s Annual Congress in light of recent events involving Croke Park and units of the organisation — would know rules are made to be bent or broken by anyone, even the GAA itself.

Case example A: in 2010, Wexford club Clonard were successful in having a motion passed into rule at Congress that introduced clocks and hooters on a trial basis. Soon after it was backed by the majority of delegates, then GAA director general Páraic Duffy said the practicalities of putting the system into operation was “nightmarish”.

The rule was dismissed following a report to Central Council that mentioned it was cost-prohibitive at €250,000 per county grounds and cited “practical difficulties”.

Back Wexford came with the proposal in 2013 and again it received the required support from Congress. Yet once more Central Council, on the basis of advice involving “officials failing to operate the clock or hooter properly” and “negative possession” (sounds a lot like some recent football games, doesn’t it?), chose not to implement it and the rule was reversed the following year.

If that was an example of democracy not being followed through on, let’s mention case example B: also at Congress 2010, Cavan club Shannon Gaels’ anti-alcohol recommendation that “all cups or trophies shall be altered to prevent the placing of any liquids therein” was endorsed. Admittedly, it was the last in a considerable 123 motions, delegates were weary and it wasn’t the most practical but it was passed into rule.

But in fact it wasn’t. The Liam MacCarthy Cup remains a deep cup, the Sam Maguire a canister. As one Croke Park official later remarked about the motion, “That was never going to happen.”

We could go on and mention the flouting of the amateur status and playing gear being of Irish manufacture but the truth is the GAA can turn a blind eye to what enshrines its identity and ethos when it suits.

Sound judgment could avoid another embarrassing U-turn

As soon as the approach was made to stage the fundraiser in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the generosity of spirit and the sporting ecumenicism, appreciated in those calls to amend Rule 21 and 42 in 1998 and 2005 respectively, should have been recognised in Dublin as they were in Cork, whose county board was dragged kicking and screaming into such civil acts of modernity.

The weekend after next, the centenary anniversary of Gaelic Sunday is commemorated when the GAA peacefully protested against the British authorities by arranging matches across the country.

British authorities attempted a crackdown on GAA activities by insisting no matches could take place without prior written permission being sought and granted,” reads the GAA website. “The GAA not only objected, they decided to defy the order and hold a match in every parish in Ireland at precisely the same time — 3pm on Sunday 4th August.

The alignment with the Liam Miller charity game is hardly parallel yet they are situations worthy of comparison. The GAA is no longer a hedge school sport. It is so far ahead of others in how it reflects and represents Irish communities, that it may have gotten ahead of itself and the arrogance is telling. Their gauging of the public sentiment in this latest instance was lacking.

It opened itself for the worst kind of ridicule: Bandwagon ridicule.

The late Liam Miller in action for Cork City in 2015
The late Liam Miller in action for Cork City in 2015

The naked opportunism of politicians getting in the act and calling on the GAA to do the right thing was cheap.

The organisation has done considerably more for Irish society than rival sports but you wouldn’t know based on the vitriol thrown at it. Opening itself up to those attacks should raise major questions for those in Croke Park.

There appears to be a change of heart over the weekend but it has come too late, and if the reports are true it has been influenced by the impact it may have on Government funding towards the GAA’s capital ventures either now or in the future. The brief statement on Saturday that the GAA authorities would be discussing with organisers of the Liam Miller charity game issues around hosting it in Páirc Uí Chaoimh could be considered the second climbdown in less than four weeks following the U-turn regarding the Kildare-Mayo All-Ireland SFC qualifier game being played in Newbridge.

Such about-faces are embarrassing but wouldn’t be so if the right decisions were taken first off. At the moment, not enough of them are being made.

Football fights back in battle of ratings

‘Learnings’ is the new worst word in the GAA lexicon. It has always been lessons and this past weekend provided a handful:

1. That there is just one stone dead rubber in the final round of the Super 8 over the August Bank Holiday weekend will provide major support for the new All-Ireland SFC phase. Home advantage didn’t carry all that much weight as none of those playing on their own patch won although Monaghan were robbed at the death. An inauspicious opening weekend for the football quarter-final phase was made look all the worse by the second hurling classic involving Limerick this summer but football may realise a lot of hurling’s worth is founded in the provincial venue.

2. Depending on how you see it, that the GPA agreed to hand over the home addresses of inter-county players to the GAA was a compromise or a surrender. When the GAA were on the side of Sport Ireland, it could be argued they are their agent in receiving the data. The GPA’s remarks on the matter would be better issued directly by themselves rather than their PR handlers.

3. Kevin McStay and Cian O’Neill felt they had plenty of reason to fault inter-county referees acting as linesmen this past weekend but the Roscommon manager’s actions should be viewed extremely dimly. A player doing something rash in the heat of battle is one thing but a manager showing such contempt for an official after the half-time whistle is another.

Sound judgment could avoid another embarrassing U-turn

4. By dropping him, Éamonn Fitzmaurice didn’t do much to keep Shane Murphy’s spirits up after the Galway game but his handling of David Clifford looks to be clever. Like the late Páidí Ó Sé with Colm Cooper, the endorsement work for a similarly exciting young star has been kept to a minimum. Clifford will enjoy the trimmings from his football pursuits in time but for now there are no distractions and the results are obvious.

A salutary lesson for GAA umpires

Inadvertent fascist-like salutes — there is plenty going on beside the goalposts in the Championship these days.

The ‘salutes’ are obviously accidental but with all the questions of umpires this summer we can add another, and how some of them are signalling for 45s and 65s.

Maybe you too have noticed just how a few of the men in white seem to be making an infamous gesture (others emulate the Roman Salute) when a ball has been last touched by a defending player before going out over the endline. It was evident in Healy Park at the weekend as it was in a couple of the recent Championship hurling games.

According to Rule 2.2 of the GAA’s Official Guide Part II, “the umpires shall signal their decisions as follows: (a) A 45m free in Football or a 65m free in Hurling by raising an arm upright, and then pointing directly infield, at the place where the ball passed over the endline.” Unfortunately for the umpires in question, they are doing a combination of the two, holding out their right arms at a 45 angle to signal the free but pointing diagonally upwards at the same time. A lazy man’s load, if you will.

A little advice from the powers-that-be or their referees would do the trick but then, as Irish Examiner columnist Brian Gavin has pointed out, there hasn’t been much of an appetite to advise umpires.

PaperTalk GAA Podcast: How David Clifford saved Kerry and the Super 8


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