It was refreshing to hike up to Shannon in Clare a couple of weeks ago to spend some time with Fr Harry Bohan, who’s written a memoir of his varied career, Swimming Upstream — Finding Positives in a Negative Ireland.
Refreshing is the word, too, because it’s always good to meet someone with a positive outlook these days. One of my favourite phrases from Evelyn Waugh is the effortless aside that it has never been difficult to distinguish a Scot from a ray of sunshine, and on that basis a lot of us are gene-pool Scots, at the very least.
That’s not the case with Fr Harry, and I don’t just say that because he got scones ahead of my visit, though that doesn’t hurt. The full fruits of that chat will be in the paper shortly, and as you might expect, it’s a wide-ranging chat that puts the GAA in its proper context in Ireland, and rural Ireland in particular.
This is the man who overturned the notion of rural decline, after all, in the 70s. When Fr Harry talks about joined-up thinking, he’s not referring to the geniuses who see an opportunity to top-up the pay of executives from money earned hard through charity fund-raising.
If you think the conversation ranged completely through the worthier subjects, then don’t; it wasn’t a chat that focused on rural Ireland exclusively either, if you’re a confirmed urban dweller.
In the course of our talk, for instance, he told me of getting his ear bent by a man who was leveraging his son’s ability at hurling into expertise by osmosis on his own behalf. This is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in inter-county hurling, and it occurs far more frequently than you might imagine.
Anyway, after a while Fr Harry shared this story with the hurling maven.
When he took over a fine Clare team in the mid-70s — Ger Loughnane, Sean Stack, Colm Honan et al — they won league titles and made it to Munster finals, where a great Cork team held them in check.
On one occasion, Fr Harry was on the line for a Cork-Clare when one of the Cork selectors came over to shake his hand.
Not just any selector. Christy Ring.
“You’re doing well with them, and you’re young,” said Ring to the Clare man.
“Thanks,” said Bohan. “I don’t know much about it, though.” Ring responded: “I don’t know much about it myself,” as he went back up to the Cork dugout.
“Now,” the priest said, returning to the present day and the man who was boring him senseless, “there you had the greatest hurler of all time saying he didn’t know much about the game, and here you are and you seem to know all about it.”
Bringing the GAA outside Irish borders
I’ve mentioned in one or two places my scepticism about this Hurling Elevens concept, the one that was trialled in the States a couple of months ago. Those doubts aren’t rooted in the lack of an invitation to see the games in Indiana, by the way (you’d have liked that, I’d say, a bit of Christmas shopping in Old Navy would have suited nicely? — a reader. No, my understanding is that it’s Banana Republic or nothing. Not that that matters – me).
I can’t say the notion of selling hurling overseas has gripped me when, as is clear, the notion of selling hurling to the four corners of this country has some way to go. The lip service paid by some county boards towards the small ball code means they are in serious dereliction of their duty when it comes to providing the full range of GAA activities to their members.
Anyway, for this observer, allowing games to develop organically and naturally, whether that’s in Indiana or ... (quick rummage through word-hoard for Irish placenames also beginning with I, comes up empty) elsewhere, is the only route to adoption and success.
Wait! Inchydoney. Phew.
That’s why this corner of the newspaper is looking forward to a documentary on RTÉ tonight, Féile Dreams. It focuses on participants in the annual underage Gaelic football competition, or at least one set of participants: those from South London.
There’s an intriguing back story if, like me, you’re a sucker for a bit of sociology and demographics flavouring your sport. The nursery for the game is St Paul’s Academy in Abbey Wood, a school which originally catered for a mass of Irish emigrants in the locality.
Now those emigrants and their kids have moved on and assimilated into the English population at large, they’ve been replaced in the main by more new arrivals, this time from Africa. When their kids rock up to St Paul’s they pitch in with the tradition of the school, the one that was forged by the sons of Clare and Galway parents: Gaelic football. Once you get past the novelty of London accents more readily associated with Eastenders discussing the attractions of the Féile, this becomes an irresistible gem, because it shows what the GAA should be doing in terms of spreading its message. Not looking for the splashy headline, maybe, but accomplishing one of the core goals of the GAA: making the games available to as many people as possible for as long as they’re interested.
Whether all of London rows in to kick an O’Neill’s ball instead of a Mitre one is irrelevant. The important thing is the kids get a chance to play.
Féile Dreams airs on RTÉ One tonight at 8pm.
No shock when Cardiff’s sugardaddy turned sour
Quite the response to the departure of Malky Mackay as manager of Cardiff City in the Premier League: unfair, ridiculous, what’s the world coming to. You know the drill at this stage.
At the risk of shooting another fish in the barrel, though, nobody is surprised, surely? The commercial realities of so many large-scale soccer clubs mean they are the playthings of an individual, or a small group of individuals, and are governed accordingly.
The relatively recent arrival of American owners into the Premier League is interesting to me because that very American sense of the team owner is now a commonplace across the water; and when I say very American, I mean for the most part a dull antipathy which sometimes flares into naked hostility.
Ironically enough, the alternative model — of paternal, benevolent American sports club ownership — was pioneered by the father of a man who spent a few years in Dublin.
Dan Rooney, former US ambassador to Ireland, is a son of Art Rooney, who owned the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many years ago I lost a videotape of the history of the NFL, and one of the highlights was a variety of heartfelt tributes to Art Rooney by assorted Pittsburghians, including praise for never moving out of the old neighbourhood.
I raise this matter because a) it shows that the various Premier League clubs missed a trick when shopping around for owners and b) I just remembered who it was who last borrowed that old videotape.
Excuse me, I have to make a quick call.
Bear in mind I’m sorry for my festive hat trick
In response to the veritable flood of inquiries regarding my Christmas presents, I’m afraid Santa let me down somewhat.
My over-egged suggestions about NFL hats fell on deaf ears (and cold ones, ho ho ho) but I’m not too upset about that.
I actually went so far as to try one on in a Cork sports shop but when I adjusted it slightly to see if it’d fit my pate, I felt a little underwhelmed by the performance of the fabric, put it that way.
So if you got a slightly shopworn Chicago Bears NFL bobble-hat for Christmas, with shopworn standing in for torn all the way up the side, sorry.
Get in touch and I’ll make it up to you.
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