JOHN RIORDAN: A balancing act one late great would be proud of

The old school shut another one of its doors when Johnny Murphy passed away in February.

The late, great Déise newspaper man retired soon after I first started at the Examiner but plugged away, filing copy and making energetic calls to the desk as the Waterford stringer for a few years. His constant ability to produce ensured there’d be a vital tributary flowing steadily into the paper — as my friend Michael Moynihan wrote after Johnny’s death, he was a “shining light. Nothing happened in his bailiwick that he was unaware of”.

Despite the rest of us still lingering around on this mortal coil and being connected more than ever through a global network that pulsates all through the different days and nights, we have lost many of the skills which helped the likes of Johnny to thrive. But we have also been forced to polish some of the edges of the journalistic trade to make sure there’s nothing in our method that isn’t beyond reproach. For me, the focus on ethics is a good thing and not necessarily prohibitive.

I always loved the story we bounced around the desk about Johnny Murphy, the one Moynihan thankfully ushered out into public knowledge in these pages back in February: “He must also have been the only man in Ireland to report on himself, when he was both chairman of the Waterford County Board and the reporter assigned to cover those meetings.”

A different time indeed — an intriguing conflict of interest borne out of necessity. Who else was savvy enough (or shrewd enough, maybe) to wear both hats? Times were different then, there wasn’t the same level of media focus on every little thing. But it’s still an irresistible glimpse of the way things were. Johnny may have been his own propagandist but no one would have begrudged him as long as he had the delegates on his side.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take on the voluntary role of PRO of the New York County Board. I was mightily torn. Johnny sprung to mind, if only to give me brief respite from the dilemma.

What would Johnny do? So yeah, I took it on.

Next year is the centenary year of the Association’s existence in this city. Admittedly, 1914 is simply the year the flag was set down in the turf and good note-keeping really began — a rich history of the games existed before the structure was put in place and continued to do so after, for better and worse.

My choice was simple on one level and complicated on another: I’ve enjoyed writing about the GAA in New York and I’ve done plenty of private ranting about it. Pitching in with the county board and its centenary plans seemed like a necessary move despite the fact that I knew deep down, I would not be able to stomach being on both sides of the wire.

Of course, it isn’t as if I’ve been writing about the New York GAA scene on a regular enough basis to make this decision immensely problematic. But there has to be a line and I firmly believe that even if you’re crossing it for the right reasons, you must bring everything along with you.

Or as one gobby Roscommon friend described: “Now you’re part of the problem!” Another year is drawing to a close and the landscape seems to have shifted further underneath the feet of those of us who try to make a go of it in this industry while staying relatively sane. The golden era is long gone and with it has disappeared any chance of speaking out of both sides of the mouth.

More important than any anxiety about being seen to do the right thing, however, is the feeling that the GAA in New York is something worth contributing to, not just writing a few paragraphs about.

I’ve come to value what it means to people here. There’s no doubt that many people have lost touch and much of the blame falls with the administrators. But next year is a chance to recalibrate the role of the GAA in Irish New York. I won’t be writing about it here from now on but I won’t be putting up a roadblock to any of my colleagues who feel the need at any stage to focus their attention, however briefly, on goings-on over here.

Mayo will be in the Bronx for the first round of the Connacht football championship at the start of May, a gift of a fixture, loaded with significance for the fifth province, both past and present. The future is the tricky part, a much too worthy challenge.

* Twitter: @JohnWRiordan


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