Far from the madding crowd, deep in the caverns of the birthplace of the once great bastion of altruistic volunteerism that was the GAA, a room full of megalomaniacs congregated.
Those gathered — all lured to this little island by the promise of exorbitant tax-breaks — were a recently employed brains trust, charged by the GAA to secretly run the organisation from the shadows, leaving the elected administrators to remain the clean and trusted face of all we believed to be good.
Why this elite assembly — this Council of Colonels — had been brought together was simple: Having suffered an “Aestas Horribilis” the summer previous, the GAA convened a war congress to mitigate against future missteps — and so the council set about working in the dark to rebrand the association in everything but name.
The background to this radical action was a groundswell of discontent, simmering for years, as the association’s members grew disenchanted with a perceived abandonment of the community and amateur ethos, accusing the association of selling its soul through a myriad of corporate deals with Big Alcohol, Big Media, and Big Banking.
The dominoes fell one by one in the summer of 2018 — first the Newbridge or Nowhere debacle, then the Páirc Uí Chaoimh testimonial scandal.
The final straw, however, was the announcement on the week of the All-Ireland hurling final that the naming rights to Croke Park had been sold.
That Sunday, the Limerick hurlers lifted Liam MacCarthy on Jones Road, but not in Croke Park, they did so in the brand new Páirc Rupert Murdoch.
The small print, missed by everybody at the time, saw a 33rd team enter the NFL and subsequent football championship in 2019: Team Sky, managed by Dave O’Brailsford and skippered by Chris Froome from wing back.
There followed revolt. GPSF (Gaelic Players Sans Frontiers), led by Paul Galvin, exiled itself to San Sebastian in the Basque Country and communicated their message of peaceful protest in short prose that would have made Hemmingway weep with envy: “We played ball because playing ball was pure. Not for profit. Nor for fame. But because between a ball and a man there is an aria. There exists poetry. In the air between. The sky above. The turf below.”
Support grew like sunflowers, for GPSF, and for a more belligerent splinter group, the C-GAA (Continuity GAA) led by Johnny Pilkington, who adopted a more aggressive, asymmetric pattern of disruption to fight their cause.
Their tactic of boycotting participation in championship games only to then raid the dressing rooms at half-time to empty the unprotected gear bags into the showers and smear the lads’ going-out clothes in deep heat, divided public opinion and pushed them to the margins.
One place there was no poetry was in room 1884 of Hayes Hotel, that July night.
The Council of Colonels sat for their biweekly “Pulse Check” — where all manner of pertinent issues were discussed, from fixture clashes to the latest capital raising enterprises. Their modus operandi — throw money at everything.
The more you throw, the more you make.
Chaired by Piers Morgan, he was surrounded by five of his most trusted lieutenants: Chief of Communications (Muhammad Saeed al Sahhaf, Saddam Hussein’s former Minister for Misinformation), Current Operations (Kris Jenner), Future Operations (David Davis of Brexit infame), Youth Development (vlogger Logan Paul), and GAA Intel (former FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev).
“Right lads, let’s keep this brief. The pints of Snakebite downstairs won’t drink themselves. Round the table — let’s go. Kris, you first.”
“Scheduling clash upcoming this weekend boss. Meath are due to play Team Sky in a 3rd round qualifier replay at Elon Musk Park in Navan, but we added an extra Ed Sheeran date so somethings gotta give.”
“Only from Hector and Tommy Tiernan. And we have them by the balls boss. They appeared in Ed’s video for Galway Girl, so job is oxo!”
“Ha! Sweet. By the way, tell Kanye we have it sorted for him to throw the ball in at the Dubs v Laois game as requested. Just remind him no funny business.
“Next, Muhammad, what ya got?”
“We will defeat them! We will fight them until it is they who run! They regret ever challenging us!”
erupts in haughty laughter.
“Good man Mo! Never change! Logan, hit me.”
”Gotta rad concept coming out of my think-drink with the Toughest Trade peeps from AIB last night...“
“A Toughest Trade series where Dominique Strauss Kahn swaps with Aidan O’Shea and coaches the ladies Mayo Football team for an entire season.”
“Brilliant! I don’t really care, but, what will O’Shea do in return?”
“Just chill in his presidential suite in the Intercontinental in Marrakesh, wearing DSK’s unicorn-hair dressing gowns, eating lion steaks off Ferragamo plates while sipping 37-year-old Lagavulin.”
“Love it! What’s the catch?”
“O’Shea doesn’t want to do it. DSK is on board. AIB are on board, RTÉ are on board but my badass Breaffy bra says it’s in ‘bad taste’. I am literally dev.”
“Is he a member of the union? If he is, get on to Flynners and tell him his Hibernia Club membership is rescinded until he puts some manners on his troops.
“David, wake up David. What you got?”
“Scientology boss. They want to conduct an auditing weekend at HQ. The Thetans are coming, or something. They’re willing to pay 25 mil. Problem is, it’s All-Ireland weekend...”
“There ain’t nothing better than the green boss! The only outcome is income!”
“Done. Move it. Muhammad, air-drop leaflets to disseminate info to the members. Nothing to the media. Last but not least, Nikolai...”
The light in the room flickers. Everyone spontaneously begins to perspire, save for the Russian.
“Did you... you know... look after the protestors at the Saudi Binladin Group Feile na nGael in Carrick-on-Shannon last weekend?”
“Will we be hearing anything from Amnesty International?”
“Well, on that light note lads, the carvery closes in ten, and believe me you don’t want to be left with the salmon. I’ll draft the minutes and send them to HQ.”
As the Council of Colonels disperse, the portraits of Cusack, Nally, Davin, et al stare disbelievingly from their suspended sentence on the wall, despairing the terrible beauty morphing before them...
All has changed, changed utterly and irreversibly.