There’s really nothing like the GAA club annual general meeting.
It has all the frustration and intrigue of real politics but with that bit more goodwill. That little bit. It can be a symbol of democracy at its purest and simplest. Where else do you get the chance to attend a gathering of people and have your say about something that’s really important to you, whatever that say may be?
The pub is the only other place I can think of, but they don’t have to listen to you there. Our constitution gives us a right to vote but let’s call a spade a spade; a vote is no substitute for the catharsis of telling the members of your club that you thought that the style of hurling played last year was pathetic. Or words to that effect. Through the chair, obviously.
It’s a miniature Ireland in lots of ways. There’s no real left wing views but there tends to be a lot of right wing ones. There are factions aplenty that are as likely to fight as they are to make alliances. Who your grandfather is, or was, can be of great importance. There’s the odd radical who might propose the abandonment of hurling or football, depending on which side of the river Bandon you’re on. The silent majority takes up the majority of the floor space and occasionally, the top table. There’s the old and the young, the indifferent and the passionate. And there’s always a few who turn up in case they miss out on a row.
The action itself can be as enthralling as anything we ever see on the field. Populism has been a central tenet of the agm long before Donald Trump claimed to have invented it.
Impassioned appeals will be made that something must be done about a particular problem (the pitch, a new pitch, the cost of sliotars/footballs/physio, drinking before matches – the usual) but nobody will ever be able to put their finger on what that ‘something’ needs to be.
If it was a selection committee they’d switch the corner-forwards, the equivalent at the agm is to put it on the agenda of the first meeting of the executive.
After they’ve gone about filling some of the problem positions (assistant secretaries and treasurers can be hard to come by).
Realpolitik frequently raises its head. There could be a heave or a coup and somebody can get chewed up and spat out before they’ve even realised what’s after happening. Maybe there’ll be a Caesar and a Brutus or maybe you won’t get that far at all on the first night because the agenda has been well and truly abandoned due to a discussion that has no place at the agm at all.
Or because nobody can remember the rules.
There are times when you come home with a job that you’d no intention of, or no interest in, taking. For days afterwards you try to piece everything together from the haze of the night. You got caught up in the moment, thinking of the good of the club.
But the truth is you got bullied, sorry, cajoled into it. You never got a seat down the back and you could feel all the eyes boring into the back of your skull after you were nominated. And seconded. You couldn’t say no and now you’re treasurer. Not even a handy number. And you still haven’t told your wife.
But the real story that emerges from the agm is the incredible work that goes into running a club. It’s phenomenal. There’s something about the treasurer’s report that really drives it home.
When you see the amount of money needed to keep it all going you recognise what a miracle it is that the club isn’t deep in the red.
The time people volunteer into it is truly remarkable. Players at least have a chance of glory, those who run the club rarely, if ever, get the credit they deserve. You can see that spirit of common endeavour at the top table. The nods, grimaces and glances of common experience and collective responsibility.
Everyone there only wants the best for the club. There are differences of opinion but there would be something wrong if there wasn’t. And when all is said and done, it’s not that Machiavellian. I wouldn’t swap it for anything.
Times change, people come and go, wounds heal, victories fade. But the club goes on.
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