LARRY RYAN: Trampling on the grassroots - How far should elite sport encroach on clubs?

A trip round the primary school circuit lately, to see would anyone take the twins, pulled my handbrake on a Dunphian u-turn.

Different approaches. One school would make you aware — subtly enough, no big deal — that theirs was the right place if you want to win a Sciath na Scol a little down the line. 

Another might remind you a small school was their best bet of making the team, any team.

A doleful audit of their breeding — and a complete failure so far to make any kind of YouTube sensation out of them — would have you err, at this juncture, on the side of them making some team, at whatever sport, if that’s what they wanted.

It’s what they’ll always have the club for anyway, to fall back on. Or will they?

Do I detect a little bit of an assault on the grassroots club, these days? 

Ever since the presumptuous phrase ‘release them back to the club’ took hold — as though the club was something as dangerous and unsophisticated as the wild — GAA clubs have been under the cosh. 

Witness complaints in Cork again this week that clubs can’t play their county players for five weeks before championship.

The rugby clubs have their own worries. Having patiently educated their players from toddlers on the skills of throwing and falling on top of one other and booting it over the sideline, they must relinquish them to the secondary schools, from where there will be no release back to the wilderness, even if they survive intact.

The rugby clubs deserve what they get, of course, for polluting young minds. But now the soccer clubs may make more sympathetic victims. 

Though it’s a complicated one.

As things stand, schoolboy clubs educate our future heroes, before sending them to England for a suitable fee, to sink or swim.

But the FAI plans to make League of Ireland academies the ‘pathway’ to a career in football, with the traditional nurseries excluded from a planned National U15 league and probably an U13 one down the road.

There are pros and cons on this one and vested interests everywhere you turn, but protesting a scenario he says could threaten a famous club’s existence, St Kevin’s Boys PRO Neil Fox put it like this: “Eventually what will happen is a player at five years of age will go into the academy of Shamrock Rovers or Pat’s. We’re a community-based club, but League of Ireland clubs are only after the best players and that’s not their problem.”

Would you entirely trust League of Ireland clubs, with their proud record of getting things done and done right, to prioritise the good of the community?

It is the obvious end-game too, for the GAA, the way it is going. 

Ordinarily, when you hear them complain about their championship calendar being wrecked, about their inability to book their holidays, you are tempted to tell them to get on with it, to cop on and play the blessed games without the county man. 

Tempted? Haven’t I sung it.

But apply the same logic at minor and younger, and you begin to wonder how far we want elite sport to encroach.

It may already be a presumption too far that grassroots clubs will always be there. 

A volunteerism crisis has seen Munster Hockey issue a red alert this week that games will halt if vacant positions aren’t filled soon.

It may well benefit elite sportspeople to be ushered on to the fast lane as early in life as possible. 

But if you strip grassroots clubs of the pride inherent in polishing their own gems, can you guarantee they will stick around to make sure everyone gets a game?

Leicester fairytale leaving bitter taste

In any objective sense, the Leicester story has become more remarkable by the week.

Even with every win, they look no more likely to win the next one.

And yet they persist, winning most of them, their curious version of momentum even surviving the old warning that a rolling stone may gather Jon Moss.

Aside from all the financial and historic hurdles, it is another disadvantage they endure compared to previous champions, who have had many matches won before they kicked off at all.

If they do it — and I remain convinced they will lose all their remaining games, just as I was certain they’d lose each of their last six — they should arguably be awarded at least one and a half championships.

And yet, I sense they have begun to lose the floating voter in recent weeks, to the extent that the phrase du jour in Premier League discussions has become: “I’d nearly prefer Spurs to win it.”

Part of it is sniffiness about the football, peaking during the Sunderland win, which might have been a Championship game held on the moon.

Others are turned off by some of the choicer characters in the Leicester set-up, though these tend to be people who would have heard Hitler’s side of the story had he brought them 20 goals a season.

There is the Twitter effect we discussed a few weeks ago, too, the acceleration of opinion life cycles. At this stage, the word ‘fairytale’ produces much the same reaction as a fourth slice of Madeira cake.

Of course, the folk getting most excited about the fairytale tended not to have another horse in the race.

Mainly, the tiring of Leicester is the one thing the Foxes have in common with every other champion and champion elect — they have begun to trigger that bitter sinking disgust that it is not your club up there, as the end nears, hogging the plaudits.

It is the most natural thing in the world and might well be Leicester’s sweetest prize.

Notorious change of character

In a move akin to prominent atheist Antony Flew putting out the book ‘There is a God’, it seems Conor McGregor is now fundamentally against talking shit in the lead-up to a fight.

All we can do now is wait for word of Tyson Fury’s commitment to feminism. 

He will get there ahead of McGregor judging by Conor’s opinion of female reporters.

Anyone would think the sport urgently needed a sideshow this week, a distraction from a darker debate.

But at least we have a trailer now for how the next phase of this lucrative narrative is to be scripted; defeated, chastened, stripped down ‘Notorious 2.0’ conquers hubris and whatever sap is lined up for his comeback.

One of the many rumours this week had McGregor defecting to the wrestling. 

Instead, it looks like UFC will borrow a classic WWE character switcharoo. Not quite Hunter Hearst Helmsley reborn as Triple H, but something along the lines of Lex Luger’s conversion from self-obsessed narcissist to patriotic American hero.

Meanwhile, they are calling this palaver Saipan for the clickbait generation. 

Time to send in tommygorman.com to put the whole thing to bed.

Heroes & Villains

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Thierry Henry: Starting to earn his corn? Nailed the Leicester momentum and the legacy Moyesy and LVG squandered with his reaction to the Carroll-on-Schlupp pen: “The kind Manchester United used to get.”

Jon Moss: Not much of a ref, usually, but can’t agree with the Mackster on page 17; last Sunday Moss nailed the lie that video replays can be much help to us. All week, video replays proved all his decisions were wrong or, as the need arose, that all of them were right.

HELL IN A HANDCART

Premier League: Have unveiled plans, for next season, to provide explanations of key refereeing decisions within half hour of the final whistle. Now these lads really have no chance. As we all know, if you’re explaining...

Michael O’Leary: I gather this racing fanatic could move offshore if the super rich are targeted for tax hikes. This could be as big a blow as the time British snooker lost Jim Davidson for similar reasons.


Lifestyle

Italy is a volatile place as you probably know, not just the passions of its people but is a place of active volcanos and frequent earthquakes. One of the most devastating earthquakes in recent years was the one that struck the Amatrice region in 2016.Wine with Leslie Williams: Some tasty Italian selections

It’s confirmed, being a dog owner is good for you. Esther McCarthy spoke to four celebrities about pride in their pooches.Animal magnetism: Celebrities and their treasured pets

We recently began watching a new sitcom called, ‘The Kids Are Alright’. It follows an American family in the early seventies as they raise eight sons.Lindsay Woods: I’m a dormant individual by nature but my children are adrenaline junkies

Rosscarbery antiques fair offers plenty of variety, writes Des O’Sullivan.See the value of rare notes and diamonds

More From The Irish Examiner