Tonight there’s a documentary on TG4 which I heartily recommend, and not for the viewer-retardant fact that I appear in it.
An Fuil agus an Bindealan is an account of how Cork came to wear red and white, abandoning their original colours, which were blue with a large gold/saffron C in the middle of the chest, a little like a professional ice hockey team (the Calgary Calories, maybe).
In the documentary former Cork player and manager, and Irish Examiner columnist, Dónal O’Grady traces the transition: how the original blue and saffron-c jerseys were stolen by the Crown Forces in a 1919 raid on the county board offices (where did they end up?), and how the availability of jerseys from a small, recently-defunct club on the Bandon Road meant a switch to red and white.
The bare facts may be known to many, but fleshing them out sheds a lot of light on a little-known subject.
For instance, that small club on Cork’s southside was Fr. O’Leary Hall (the hall itself is now University College Cork student accommodation).
O’Leary was an interesting character in himself, as the documentary outlines. A strong supporter of the temperance movement, O’Leary founded the GAA club which bore his name - it shared a constituency with another outfit, St Finbarr’s, but neither organisation benefited from splitting the local resources.
It was only when Fr. O’Leary Hall folded, and its jerseys were commandeered by the county board, that the Barrs also enjoyed a dividend. Several of the best players from Fr. O’Leary Hall fell in with St Finbarr’s, who went on to senior success as a result.
What’s also interesting is how recent the notion of county colours is. It was only in 1913, we learn, that the GAA decided to regulate the area officially, and instructed counties to settle on particular colours for their county teams.
What’s interesting now is the extent to which county GAA colours are now the de facto colours associated with those counties in terms of local municipal authorities, for instance - and how apparently random selections of colours became inextricably identified with those counties.
It begs the obvious question - what would happen if one of those counties sought to rebrand itself now in terms of its colours? What would be the outcome if some marketing expert felt that certain colours weren’t conducive to promising synergies and progressive partnerships?
Would the GAA be agreeable to an ‘improved’ colour scheme for some counties? Could such an improvement be foisted on counties for their own commercial prospects? Consider that with the left-over turkey (it’s good with cranberry sauce).
An Fuil agus an Bindealan is directed by Pat Comer and produced by Éamonn Ó Cualáin and Samuel Kingston of Fócas Films.
It airs at 7.45pm tonight on TG4.
I’m enjoying a very good book at the moment, A Yorkshire Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse, by Anthony Clavane.
This is one of those books which strike a chord with your columnist, like Jonathan Mahler’s Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bronx is Burning or David Maraniss’s Once In A Great City, because they’re not afraid to go beyond sportspeople and scorelines - they give you background, context, perspective.
Granted, there are times when you just want the sport. I hear you. But in the case of Clavane’s book, consider how successful Leeds United were in the 70s under Don Revie; how successful Yorkshire clubs were in rugby league, including tiny Featherstone Rovers, winners of the Challenge Cup, despite coming from a town of 10,000 people; and the once-proverbial power of Yorkshire in cricket.
That dominance melted away, though. Consider the region’s status in those three key sports nowadays and it’s a very different picture.
Clavane’s book puts you in the middle of the industrial evisceration of an entire region - mines, steelworks, mills - and the resultant decline of its sporting prowess.
I won’t spoil the experience of reading the book ahead of time - or of reading the interview with Anthony Clavane, at that - but late in the running I’m glad to have picked up one of my books of the year.
Last week you may have read a piece I wrote about the experience of concussion among some former NFL players I met at the Web Summit.
Just as an indication that this is still a serious problem, consider George North, of Northampton and Wales, and his ongoing concussion problems.
A couple of weeks ago North was concussed in a game against Leicester - TV replays shown immediately after the incident showed he was clearly unconscious on the field.
He was taken from the field and examined but was then allowed to return to the field of play in that game.
Two seasons ago North suffered three concussions in a seven-month period, so one would have expected his club management to be particularly mindful of the risks involved.
Yet despite all of that, the Concussion Management Review Group investigated the incident and didn’t sanction Northampton for its handling of the incident.
Issues such as WiFi problems at the ground, which meant those TV replays weren’t available to all medical staff, were taken into consideration, but nonetheless it seems extraordinary that nobody was held to account.
The point has been made by commentators that it is of course extremely tricky work, navigating the intersection of law, sport, medicine and business.
Teasing out where responsibilities lie and what precedents mean at that spaghetti junction has the potential to spoil anyone’s Christmas.
But if players are to be protected those areas have to be explored. It has to be done. And that means hard decisions being made and blame being assigned.
What does this last element have to do with sport?
Absolutely nothing, but I felt that I had to share it.
In a supermarket last week someone yodelled in an unmistakably middle-class Leeside accent: “Did you get the pancetta for the sprouts, _____?”
I stuffed my gob with a tin of peas to stop laughing - luckily, given the response, delivered in similarly fruity tones:
“I did, _____, and I got those small pizzas too, because we’ll be in the Maryborough all day on the Saturday, sure.”
I love Cork. Enjoy the holidays.
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