THE PETER CANAVAN COLUMN
May 10, 2005
By Peter Canavan
It was with great interest that I followed the intriguing debate on Rule 42 in the weeks preceding Congress. In many ways it was similar to the furore surrounding the removal of Rule 21 (the ban on the RUC playing our game) in that the final outcome was close with the Ulster counties being the chief resistors to change.
Just as then, democracy had its way and the decision at Congress will be accepted by all its members and the association will continue to flourish.
Whilst accepting the outcome I remain to be convinced that the right decision has been taken. In the lead up to congress I was also disappointed by the comments directed at those members in the 'no' camp. At times these people were condemned for being 'out of touch', 'too staunch and conservative'. As an avid follower of Irish rugby and soccer I derive great enjoyment watching these men perform and I will continue to do so. But first and foremost I am a member of the GAA and I believe we have much to do to sort out our own house before we start to look over the fence.
The fact remains that no sooner have we erected a magnificent stadium (and it is not completely finished) than we feel obliged to give it to other sports that we are competing against. Surely we should satisfy the needs of our own patrons first. Yes, more games should be played in Croke Park - gaelic games. Last month the All-Ireland Club Intermediate and Junior finals took place. For some of those participating this will be the biggest game of their lives and a once in a lifetime chance to play in Croke Park. But despite the pleas of the clubs involved the games were played elsewhere.
There should be other opportunities for our own players to sample the Croke Park experience- All Ireland U-21 finals, Railway Cup, school/university competitions. In todays world with a more vibrant PR approach we can make a great use of this wonderful stadium. Without a shadow of a doubt it is the dream of every young girl or boy that can lift a hurl or kick a football to play one day in Croke Park. Unfortunately only a few will be privileged. The post Congress comments made by Gearoid Adams (Antrim wing half back) struck a particular chord with me,
"Am I jealous? Of Course I am. Jesus, even David Beckham could possibly play on the sacred turf before me".
I can't help but think that the GAA have been pressurised into making this decision on Rule 42 sooner than was necessary. Yes, it may not have looked good for an international soccer or rugby team to play their home games abroad, but why was this factor used as a stick to beat the GAA with. Surely this dilemma lies at the feet of the professional organisations that run those sports. The role of the media, I believe, was crucial in swinging the decision to delete Rule 42. Many delegates in the 'no' camp were ostracised for burying their head in the sand and for maintaining the perceived 'Ulster says no' mentality. The fact of the matter was that these delegates were giving the genuine opinion of club members especially in the north. Whilst we aspire to share the one identity on this small island the fact of the matter is that not everyone has been brought up to share the same experiences in sport and indeed society. Hence, opinions may differ especially on key issues but regardless of upbringing these opinions should be valued and respected. In the north of this island, down through the years we have seen rugby and soccer benefit from government subsidies. They have received an inordinate amount of media attention and publicity. Yet the GAA has had to fund itself for decades but has grown from strength to strength during times of great adversity. Despite the fact that our association has suffered from de-facto censorship in some parts of this island it is heartening to see our membership base expand and the development of our facilities are now the envy of many other sporting bodies.
Unfortunately it is not that long ago when it was just not so cool to wear a gaelic jersey down the street. The fact is that while it is great to see the GAA blossom in recent years largely due to the hard work and efficiency of its own members we should not be put in a position where we feel we owe other bodies anything. Some of the scathing criticism was directed at the Ulster Counties for being anti rugby and soccer. Again I would question this point and if anything I would suggest the reverse is true. As a teacher of Physical Education I have observed that in recent years many traditional gaelic schools have introduced soccer or rugby as part of the PE curriculum. Rugby in particular is proving to be very popular and many of the skills in gaelic will compliment those necessary to play rugby. Unfortunately this 'Education for Mutual Understanding' does not appear to be reciprocated - very few if any of the traditional rugby schools have their pupils delving into gaelic football or hurling.
'Parity of esteem' is a phrase well used in the political spectrum but I believe that the GAA have still much ground to catch up on regarding parity with other sports. In particular I think of the TV coverage our games receive in comparison to rugby/soccer. Again this may be more relevant up north but every year in Ulster we have big attendances for county finals. In Tyrone we see 8 - 10,000 at the football final but this will receive little or no TV coverage. Yet if this was happening in rugby or soccer there would be much publicity and obviously extended highlights. At a time when there is a healthy rivalry amongst sporting bodies regarding nurturing the youth to partake in their sport we in the GAA should not be that naive to sell ourselves short.
The recent 'big two' clash in the Irish league (Linfield V Glentoran) will not have gone unnoticed by many in GAA circles. I listened to the conclusion of the game on radio and to the events of its aftermath. The commentators were shocked and appalled as they described the 'sickening' scenes of violence after the game when the pitch was invaded by supporters from both teams. Players were hurried off the pitch as bottles and bricks rained down. Croke Park officials beware! Croke Park residents take note!
Congress 2005 will be remembered in the years to come for the alteration to Rule 42. But this was a very important Congress on a number of fronts. There was a range of motions on the Clar that would have had far reaching implications on the development of gaelic football if they had succeeded.
The experimental rules as used in the subsidiary competitions generated as much debate if not amore than Rule 42. Those who believed that Congress '05 would mark the end of the conservatism within the GAA got it wrong. Very few of the new proposals were accepted. Goalkeepers having the option to use the tee for kicking out was passed while the idea of the 'mark', clean up and the sin bin were all defeated. I was surprised that the proposal to introduce an independent time-keeper was not successful as I'm sure the majority of referees were keen to see it succeed. A major change in administration was endorsed resulting in the GAC dividing into twp bodies - fixtures and discipline. This is an area that is badly in need of improvement. A disputes resolution code is to be adopted and hopefully it will avert the growing trend of going to court to settle disputes arising out of inadequate action being taken by the GAA. Of course the other big issue during Congress was the election of the new President. Congratulations to Nicky Brennan, he will have a tough act to follow but is more than capable of taking our association onwards and upwards. I hope to have a wish list ready for him in my next article!
Finally as we come to terms with the prospect of Brain O'Driscoll gracing the hallowed turf - it looks like another great Brian has played his last on Croke Park. The artistry and class of Brian Whelahan will be missed the length and breadth of the country.
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