PADDY HEANEY: Tough times make tough competitors, so back off Da

The Football Review Committee.

Enforced substitutions for a yellow card. The mark. An independent time-keeper. There is so much to discuss. But hell, it’s the last column before Christmas. It can wait.

Besides, there is another issue which is even more important and it must also be addressed.

So, think of today’s column as a Christmas Carol of sorts. And as a means of conveying the moral of our tale, I’m going to be the ghost who haunts those parents who think their children are destined for stardom.

Although it doesn’t get much publicity, conscientious parenting has become a massive problem in the GAA. Hopelessly devoted mammies and daddies are causing mayhem.

Back in the day, parents adopted a healthy disinterest in their children. Young boys in particular were largely left to their own devices.

Now, lads are still being spoon-fed long after they’ve started to shave.

Proud and loving, these mothers and fathers often harbour hugely inflated ambitions for their offspring. Just speak to any coach who leaves little Johnny on the subs’ bench.

Years ago, there was always one maniac father who was constantly lobbying for his sons. Every club had one. But now, the country is teeming with these obsessive parents. Every club has at least a dozen.

Like everything else, the problem stems from the waning authority of the Catholic Church. The main purpose of the Catholic marriage used to be to produce young Catholics and plenty of them.

Abstract concepts like happiness and fulfilment were just that, abstract concepts. Parents were too busy to be happy.

When my primary school teachers used to go round our class of 33 pupils, they’d ask how many children were in our families.

We had five. That was about average. Eight was impressive. Three was modest. Two was borderline Presbyterian.

Naturally enough, parents with six or seven children could only devote a certain amount of time to their brood. In our day, we walked to the pitch. Most parents didn’t even go to games.

But all that changed. Irish Catholics are having fewer babies. To borrow from fashion parlance, in 21st Century Ireland — two is the new five.

Consequently, parents have more time to spend with their sons and daughters. You might think that’s a good thing, but not necessarily. With that increased time has come increased dreams and expectations, many of which are totally unrealistic. They believe that if they encourage their children to adopt a disciplined approach to sport, then ‘hey presto’, they’re going to produce the next Maurice Fitz. But it doesn’t work like that. To become a true uberstar, other factors usually come into play. ‘The Ghost of GAA Parents’ has drawn up a list of questions and added a few details which should help a few mothers and fathers realise their big plans for little Johnny are going to end in tears, and it will probably be theirs.

Does your child have ginger hair?

When an Irishwoman stares into a pram, she coos and says: “Och, he’s the image of his mother/father.”

When an Irishman does the same thing, he stares at the da and says: “Do I see a hint of ginger there?”

This is a very popular joke. For some reason, Irish society continues to marginalise and alienate our much beloved carrot-tops.

From a GAA perspective, this makes no sense whatsoever. There are two very good reasons why a red-headed son should be cherished and celebrated.

Exhibit ‘A’ is Henry Shefflin and exhibit ‘B’ is Colm Cooper.

As far as GAA megastars are concerned: ginger is good.

Are you planning to send your child away?

Happy, contented children who grow up in the bosom of a warm, contented home don’t reach the stars. If you want your son to be truly brilliant, send him away from home.

Not convinced? Then I give you: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Zinedine Zidane. What do these former European Footballers of the Year have in common? They all left home when they were 12. Iniesta ‘cried rivers’ when he joined Barcelona’s famed youth academy, La Masia. George Best was so homesick when he moved to Manchester that he jumped on a boat and returned to Belfast.

Schools used to serve a similar function. Former Derry minor and European Cup winner, Martin O’Neill boarded at St Columb’s, Derry.

Boarders had to be tough, and none was tougher than the late Páidí Ó Sé, himself a former lodger at St Brendan’s, Killarney.

Are you a kind, caring parent?

One of the biggest misconceptions around is that two highly involved parents will produce highly successful children. This is total nonsense.

Stellar success often comes from a background of heartbreak, sadness and rejection. Absent, alcoholic or dysfunctional fathers have a great track record when it comes to breeding hall of famers. Single mothers also do very well when it comes to raising champions on their own. Sometimes, parents aren’t even necessary. Just look at Paul McGrath.

And so...

Good parents take note. Please don’t reprimand yourself if you have just spent €100 on a new pair of boots. The child who is raised by caring parents is truly blessed.

But just don’t expect too much from little Johnny (or his coaches). He is happy and he is loved. That is his reward.

As for little freckle-faced ‘Ginger Jimmy’ who walks to training because his single mother doesn’t own a car. His reward is coming later.


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