"Why did 58,000 people turn up today, Bishop?" we wondered out loud after yesterday’s quarter-finals at Croke Park.
“Bishop” is Paddy, or more commonly “Paddy The Bishop”, a long-time family friend and football devotee who does everything from A to Z in a changing room.
Known all over Ulster, and further afield, for his years of service to the GAA and for just being, well… about.
I guess if you are ‘about’ long enough then eventually everyone will know who you are.
Paddy never drove a car but knows all the roads. He doesn’t steal the limelight and knows how to keep his counsel.
I doubt if there is much about Paddy that I don’t know and therefore I can connect with him at any level.
It strikes me that despite having played football at a high level and having managed since I out-lasted my usefulness, and despite being a keen and interested supporter of football matches and of the individuals playing them, I know little about the sports people playing our national games today.
Who is Paul Flynn, the best athlete playing Gaelic games? What makes Aidan O’Mahony tick? What struggles does Seán Cavanagh overcome to play consistently at the top level?
Does Cillian O’Connor still live at home? At a time when the player and manager modus operandi is “win first, discuss everything else later”, we fee-paying spectators have been drawn into a quagmire of phrases and terminology like “defensive blanket”, “restructuring the calendar”, and “two- tiered systems”.
We are losing the connection with the people.
Who are these young lads playing our sport? Tell me more about them. Bring me into their lives and let me build a connection so that I can see them as people and not robots carrying out functions designed by men in blackened- out computer rooms.
A case in point is this present Kerry team.
Kieran Donaghy and James O’Donghue seem like great fun. We know this because they smile when they are enjoying sport and have a little bit of devilment in them, such as Star’s post-match interview after last year’s final.
Each time I see Kieran, depending on my mindset, I’m feeding a predetermined negative thought process or designing another to feed. My prejudiced mind fuelled by our narrow view of the people I judge, handicaps me.
It’s the “what you see, is all there is” mindset.
Colm Cooper is the leading Gaelic player for the past decade and the face of so many commercials and products. Who is this man really? What is he like and why can’t I bond with him in a way that is natural.
Many journalists, most recently Paddy Heaney, have spoken about the lack of access to players and the hollow answers that those who are permitted to speak give to the media.
Others have also spoken about how utterly boring journalism can be in the GAA world as a result of management restrictions on players.
The book I’m reading at present is ‘The Pillars of the Earth’, a mammoth 1087 pages of small text about the building of a cathedral in 12th century England.
The author, Ken Follett, draws you in to a wonderful tale full of rich detail about a family’s life during the troubles of civil war, religious disturbances and a time when royalty is struggling with succession.
Follett brings people to life, not just with eloquent character descriptions and vivid landscape scenery, but with masses of information about the inner workings of the characters: their thoughts, beliefs, their failings.
You are unable to detach yourself from these people and find your mind taking you through this journey with them.
We all want success and ultimately for our players to take home the Sam Maguire in our magnificent sporting cathedral. But what is to stop us from adding some colour to the people who are making this journey. Maybe we can all learn to love them for more than what they produce on the field. And maybe when we are all too willing to castigate them for wrongdoing we might just stop for a moment and see them as people with a story attached.
So while I sat bored with the inevitability of the results over the weekend, lamenting the quality of the displays, and discussing the potential candidates for the vacant Derry job, maybe I would have retained some interest in the games had I a more personal, although virtual, connection with the players on the field.
Should I ever take on county management, feel free to remind me of this.
Who are these lads playing GAA and what is so wrong with building a connection with them through the media?
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