MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Looking back, the GAA should have done more

From Sport In Ireland (second edition, published 2119)

. . . nobody could have anticipated what was to come for Gaelic games in 2019. Dublin had won a historic four senior football titles in a row in 2018, while Limerick had ended a decades-long drought with a senior hurling All-Ireland. The GAA was in rude good health, it seemed.

The turning points came the following spring.

First there was the ‘one-punch’ fatality at an All-Ireland club semi-final in Portlaoise, when substitutes rushed the field to join a fight which quickly turned dangerous. A bystander who had squeezed through the wire surrounding the fence was struck and hit his head on the concrete dugout.

Worse followed at a National Hurling League semi-final in Thurles a month later, when a bout of fisticuffs on the sideline inflamed passions among the nearby spectators. A female supporter coming back from the shop was pushed over in the disturbance and fell awkwardly, ending up paralysed.

The outcry was loud and long, and the silence emanating from Croke Park was interpreted negatively. The storm might have passed, but a general election that summer kept issues of public concern in the spotlight, and a finely balanced contest meant each party was scrapping for every inch.

At that point in time the notion that Mixed Martial Arts might provide a safer alternative to Gaelic games seemed outlandish, if not downright wrong, but the supporting evidence was stressed by several candidates of the emerging UFC party, led by Conor McGregor. The future Taoiseach was not long retired from the octagon in summer 2019 and was closely identified with the three pillars of MMA advocates: strong monitoring, strict punishment and candour on violence, the famous “SS and C” now enshrined in the Constitution.

For all that, the McGregor/MMA platform would probably have come to nothing if incumbent Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had not been outed during the election campaign as a closet Celtic fan, enraging many traditionally-minded Fine Gael members. The news broke a week before polling, which left the traditional parties under a cloud of uncertainty exploited superbly by McGregor and his TDs, who became the power brokers in the next Dáil.

Circumstances thus aligned to put the power of proscription in the hands of MMA diehards, who moved swiftly to condemn Gaelic games because its administrators had not moved, despite plenty of warnings, to address the violence running in parallel with its sporting events.

From condemnation it was a matter of expediting the Suppression of Unlawful Events (Sporting) Bill 2019, which passed all stages in the House with alacrity in October of that year.

The GAA reacted furiously but found itself handcuffed by legislation: forbidden to meet in an organised setting, it couldn’t co-ordinate resistance. Barred from the media, its efforts went unreported. Blocked from the schools, the supply lines to the clubs withered and died.

Driven underground, Gaelic games flickered for a while, supported by diehards in remote areas which weren’t policed as strictly as the large urban centres, but the interest was generational. Within a couple of decades of the Act coming into force memories of large-scale GAA events were fading fast, and few if any participants were still playing, even in those secret matches.

In spring 2054, near Cork, the last recorded hurling game (according to traditional rules) took place. The last Gaelic football game had been played three years earlier — and Michael Cusack’s great dream was over. Ireland was in thrall to the octagon, and has remained so ever since.

Time to dust off the celeb player candidate list

Leaving the jokes elsewhere on the page — really — the kerfuffle in Leinster House during the week had a few people thinking in terms of election for a few short hours, until common sense asserted itself.

Denis Naughten’s departure, however, was sufficient ammunition for names to start getting thrown around, and inevitably the celebrity candidates were mentioned. A couple of texters to this quarter were grading people by their recognisability, and one obvious index of recognisability is the sports star who need only show his face to gain a seat in the Dáil.

It doesn’t matter that the bones of a thousand such sports stars are scattered on the byways of the country — figuratively speaking — having found the rough and tumble of electoral politics far more challenging than the competition in their chosen arena. Every time there’s a whiff of the hustings, the names start circulating.

Far be it from me to act as a cold shower (too much material to work with — everyone) but as we count down to the inevitable knocking on your door and looking for your consideration on the day, put the celebrity player candidate out of your head.

It never works out. For anyone.

The safest hands in Ireland

What’s in the water down Shannonside direction (literally, in one particular case)?

During the week the Limerick Leader told us about Donal O’Sullivan, the county’s football goalkeeper in this year’s championship.

A qualified doctor, he was on a flight from Australia to New Zealand recently when there was a medical emergency — another passenger appeared to be having a heart attack. O’Sullivan stepped in with medical assistance and ordered the plane to be turned around, and the man’s life was saved.

It’s not just the first time a life was saved by an inter-county goalkeeper in the area.

Six years ago Joe Hayes, then the Clare senior football ‘keeper, dived into the Shannon itself to save a woman from drowning. A Garda, Hayes’s actions were commended at the time even though — if this reporter’s memories are correct — he was modest and evasive about the event at a subsequent press call for the Clare footballers.

It’s an old cliche, and a mild calumny about a team’s forwards, that the safest place to stand at training is near the goal.

With the Limerick and Clare footballers it looks close enough to the truth, though.

Try Briarpatch for an entertaining diversion

A pal got in touch recently with a simple question.

“I don’t contest your right to inflict your tastes on us, however it happened” — (I don’t know if he was talking about my tastes or the right to inflict same) — “but what about the people who aren’t interested in American urban policy or how billionaire sports-team owners conduct themselves?

“In fact, how about some fiction?”

If you want an entertaining diversion — an entertainment, Graham Greene used to call them — try Briarpatch by Ross Thomas. First, a TV series is being made out of this perfectly formed thriller, now over 30 years old, so you’ll be ahead of the curve. Second, Thomas came up with one of the greatest titles of all time for another of his books (The Fools In Town Are On Our Side).

But third: Thomas didn’t write a book until he was in his 40s and at a loose end. He gave himself six weeks to write one, and he did. He sent it to a publisher and two weeks later it was accepted.

Oh yeah. That happens all the time.

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