How far away are you really, no matter the distance you’ve travelled?
This day last week I was up in Gaelic Park watching a couple of football games (through jet-lagged eyes, I have to admit - a match report would have had vast swathes of ‘nothing much happened’ to coincide with my power naps.)
Before the second game John Riordan, formerly of this parish, introduced me to the referee down to handle it - local ref John Fitzpatrick, who had recently run the line at the Clare-Kildare NFL final back in Croke Park.
We chatted away about that and how entertaining a game it was before I gradually realised something, the way you do when the tumblers start to click in your head: when John mentioned where his parents had retired to live, down in Ballinskelligs in south Kerry, it sank in that I had spent a great evening some years ago with the two of them and his brother.
Despite their location they were looking forward to the hurling games later that summer - discerning people, clearly - and sure why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea, and we knocked a lovely evening’s chat out of it.
All of a sudden the Bronx didn’t seem half as alien, with me explaining where in Ballinskelligs we stayed the last time, the lane to the beach, both of us identifying the local shop as an aid to navigation.
This is an experience replicated all over the world, of course. In Dubai and Brisbane and Stockholm people meet on the side of a GAA field and trace the network until they find the common thread.
Granted, yours truly wasn’t down at Gaelic Park looking for a start and a place to kip, but many people do.
Those few minutes of recognition brought home in a small way the work done by the GAA in a thousand parishes far from home. When you’re not directly affected yourself it can slip your mind that it’s going on, but it always is, ticking away steadily.
(The experiences are hopefully better than some of mine; on my first trip to the States I went hurling in Boston and someone got their jaw broken; on a later visit I was playing football in San Jose when I got a kick in the eye. My opponent was clearly labouring under the delusion I posed a threat.)
The GAA in America is the outpost I’m most familiar with - or maybe least unfamiliar with - and I wouldn’t depict it as a social concern pure and simple.
The long-running issues of player legality and persistent rumours about payment dog the Association there at the higher levels, but, as is the case with the GAA everywhere, it’s not always about the higher level.
Everybody knows how close the New York team came to overcoming Roscommon this year in the championship: a win like that would certainly boost the organisation in the Big Apple in the short term, but wouldn’t a longer-term benefit be a serious commitment by the GAA to helping with the redevelopment of Gaelic Park itself?
The evening I was there it was perfectly adequate for the four teams involved, but the local organisation is keen to improve the facilities at the dressing-room end of the stadium.
Some of them told me they’d lost a valuable political ally when Christine Quinn lost her council seat, but that needn’t be the end of the story, surely.
It wouldn’t hurt if the new Minister for Foreign Affairs put his weight behind the initiative and got some other local politicians to take an active part in the campaign for redevelopment.
I’m sure that even in the land of the brave and the home of the free it helps to have a heavyweight public representative to push a project.
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