John McEntee: Why is the GAA promoting something that's not its own?

Australia’s Eddie Betts with Niall Morgan of Ireland during last week's International Rules match in Perth Picture by ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

CRICKET? It’s not for me. I’ve never understood it. Are they overs or innings? I’m baffled how it can take five days to win a game or how it maintains spectators’ interest given its stop-start nature.

Perhaps it is too complicated for my simple mind. That said, cricket as a sport has my utmost respect given its longevity and its development internationally.

My former schoolmate, Aidan O’Rourke watched it. I remember how he adored the game and all its intricacies. Aidan was a lover of all sports so his general curiosity of the game developed into a deeper interest over time.

He could see strengths in sportsmen who were ridiculed by others. For example, he could see the skill and potential in the jab of Lennox Lewis when others were in awe of Mike Tyson’s aggression and anger. It’s Lewis who can lay claim to being the last man to hold the undisputed heavyweight title.

International Rules? It’s not for me either. I just can’t get my head around how an organisation steeped in Irish traditions and values would want to showcase its best talent and best managers to the world by promoting a game other than its own.

Baseball is America’s ‘National Pastime’. Can you imagine their governing body signing up to a mish-mash between baseball and cricket? Of course not. It sounds ridiculous – right?

Our players are national treasures. Millions of euros are given by the GAA each year to contribute to their general welfare, their good nutrition, education and so on.

The organisation is blossoming all across Europe, the USA and Asia. The GAA brand has been internationalised. Companies such as O’Neills have made a fortune selling GAA jerseys worldwide.

A former team-mate, Paul Larkin, moved to Munich almost 20 years ago to work in the aviation industry.

His first objective upon landing in the Fatherland was to establish links with fellow Gaels and form a GAA club.

Munchen Colmcilles was born and proudly exists to this day. Paul respected his heritage and his beloved GAA. He aspired to promote our games, not a blended form of Gaelic football and German fussball.

There are many similar examples of Irish people travelling across the world and sowing the seeds of Gaelic games.

I hear many current and former players of the International Rules praising the game and calling for it to be preserved for it to remain as a sport. This comes as no real surprise. Sure it is a great experience for all. They get to train and live as professionals for a few weeks of their lives.

It is what many of them crave and naively aspire to. Professionalism within the context of GAA is a dream too far.

Many say they participate so they can represent their country, but they’re not doing it as Gaelic footballers. There is no international representative dimension to GAA. International Rules is a different game, a different sport. It is a fallacy to think you are representing your club, county and country in this way.

I’m sure if I was talking to my friend Aidan he would say the game was entertaining and worth watching. He’d probably be correct, but that is to miss the point.

Every sport has its virtues. Every sport, particularly a team sport, will attract an audience. Every field sports player has common traits such as athleticism, strength, agility, skills but – to paraphrase Kerry legend Marc O Se – not every sport should be bastardised.

We know what the players think of it. Has Central Council tested the views of its membership? Citing decent attendance figures or television viewing figures as evidence of grassroots support would be misguided. These players are our friends, our families, our local heroes taking on the Australians. It wouldn’t matter if the game was tip the can or blind man’s bluff, the Irish people will row in behind the players. It is just the way we are.

I also wonder where the International Rules sits in the context of the GAA’s strategy for games development. A quick internet search shows it did not feature in their 2015 Strategic Development Plan, so one wonders if it going to be the fly in the ointment which displaces the club scene further in 2018 and beyond.

Mickey Harte was once a fervent critic of this game when his Tyrone players were key participants in it. I think the GAA need to hear Mickey’s voice again. I think they need to hear the views of Jim Galvin, of Joe Brolly, of Oisin McConville, of the local groundsman and the underage coaches.

They need to listen to the broad-ranging views of the hundreds of thousands of its membership and focus its energies on how to promote our own games.

If the GAA is not sexy enough to be an international sensation, then so be it. But don’t try to sell something we are not.

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