Earlier this week, in these pages, Paddy Heaney wrote about the Kerry football conveyor belt of talent — the headline, ‘Kingdom’s unique structure keeps them well ahead’, conveys the general spirit of the piece.
Well, as Samuel L Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, allow me to retort.
Paddy is a friend of mine but I have to take issue with what a tabloid might term a glaring hole in his argument about Kerry’s ability to produce quality footballers, one that applies to many counties in his northern orbit as well.
Namely, the focus on one sport, and the model of a la carte membership of the GAA which is practised by many counties.
Those counties which don’t invest the same amount of resources into both major sports promoted by the GAA are derelict in their duty, and that’s putting a kind spin on their activities.
An acquaintance of this column who shall remain nameless, a man associated with hurling, was assigned some years ago to a coaching role with a county which focused on Gaelic football; after three consecutive appointments were cancelled at short notice, he abandoned his mentoring post.
The fact that the person cancelling the appointments was a senior member of the county board executive convinced him they weren’t serious about promoting the game.
We began to use the term ‘hurling suppression officer’, half in jest, half in earnest.
The usual argument you hear is that many counties prefer to focus on one code because their chances of success are greater in that arena, a laughable thesis given the utter lack of success enjoyed by the vast majority of those same counties.
A charge which would be harder for them to hear, but no less true because of that, would be that they are cynically failing to fulfil their responsibilities as organising bodies of the GAA — they are simply selling the members of the organisation in their counties short by not making the full palette of Gaelic games available to people within that county. The fig leaf of an occasional geographical pocket devoted to the less prominent code within the county is just that — a flimsy protection against the utter shame of nudity rather than a coherent attempt to get dressed.
This is not to pick on Kerry, particularly (feel free to presume a paragraph paraphrasing why-some-of-my-best-friends is implied here, I just couldn’t be bothered writing it) because there are plenty of counties at this racket.
When the Tipperary county football final had to be played on St Stephen’s Day there was a good deal of huffing and puffing about burn-out and the fixture crisis, and finger-pointing at the Premier administration, but the reality is that Tipperary is making a genuine effort to make Gaelic football and hurling available at the highest possible level within the county.
We could all do without the tut-tutting from counties which can run off their ‘secondary’ county championships more or less over a weekend because they’ve opted out. They’re negligent, smug and complacent, content to proclaim half-commitment. Maybe they should join the GFA or the GHA, depending on their focus.
This isn’t a discussion you hear too often because no organisation — or person — likes to examine its own purpose too clearly, but the point can’t be denied.
For all the self-congratulation at last weekend’s Congress, asking why many counties sell the GAA short would have been a good day’s work.
James makes a refreshing read
Last week I quoted Clive James regarding Henry Shefflin — to be clear, the Australian polymath was talking in general terms about talent rather than discussing what the Kilkenny man had to offer his county team.
A couple of people asked me about the quotes and I was happy to point them to the book they came from, Cultural Amnesia.
If you’re old enough to remember James’ drollery as a TV presenter, you might be surprised to read his books on culture, which are entertaining, but entertainingly learned.
This can lead to stumbles. You’ve got to watch out for the occasional reference to the different versions Clive owns of some obscure book of philosophy — in the original German — before he settles on his favourite, the one in thin paper he picked up in Rio that time.
On the other hand, so what? There’s something refreshing about someone up front about highbrow tastes because of the premium now placed on the calculated projection of affable stupidity. Clive likes Borges in Spanish and he’s tried Akhmatova in Russia, and he quotes Arthur Schnitzler on the rush to the bottom (“Finally, a flight to stupidity”). It’s not all heavy going either. He unearthed this quote from a Viennese wit about a rival inclined to exaggerate: “He’s such a liar that the opposite of what he says isn’t even true.”
Fifa’s priorities leave a lot to be desired
You know by now that the World Cup in Qatar will likely be played Christmas week, 2022 (and to think the Tipperary County Board got grief for playing one game on December 26).
You may not know that even as august a personage as Fifa’s secretary general Jerome Valcke has admitted there are “things to be solved” when it comes to the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar (on average one Nepalese migrant worker in Qatar died every two days in 2014). What you may not have seen, however, is some outlets reported the TV rights for the 2026 World Cup were awarded without going to tender. This decision, which emerged with all the slow grace of the Alien burrowing out of a host body, is clearly not as important as people dying in a horrific working environment.
However, given how lucrative those rights are — rights to the 2018 and 2022 tournaments went to Fox for €380m — it seems strange there was no bidding process. Until you realise that the 2026 rights had gone to Fox and Telemundo, and Fox had complained that the switch of the 2022 tournament to winter would clash with its NFL coverage.
“We have done what we had to do in order to protect Fifa and the organisation of the World Cup,” Valcke said of the 2026 deal. Priorities, Jerome. Priorities.
Statistics will tell you some things will never change
I always enjoy dipping into Grantland, a treasure trove of a site no matter whether you’re interested in how they made True Detective or the importance of trades in the NFL, and I saw a headline that piqued my interest there the other day — The Moneyball II war. Writer Brian Curtis pointed out that for all the perceptions that the stats men conquered the sports world, some verities appear to be eternal: “If you tell a player he’s lousy and have the numbers to back it up, the player turns his back on you. If you tell a player he’s wonderful and have the numbers to back it up, the player cracks a smile and then turns his back on you.”
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