John McEntee: GAA must lead the way in fighting for the greater good
SOME weeks back I was contacted by a man, whose name escapes me now, seeking counselling advice for his grandson’s gambling addiction.
I duly sent him in the right direction but to my delight he wanted more than just a counsellor, he wanted to share some craic about football.
He was a remarkable man. He’d spent his early years growing up in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, a town he loved dearly. In the bad economic time of the 1980s he emigrated to work on the oil wells, earning enough to return to live in the suburbs of Dublin.
He spoke of 1972 and helping his local GAA club win their first ever Mayo county title – confusing I know, but there is some historical reason for this anomaly – and how it fostered great pride and how football helped retain the soul of the parish in the absence of any meaningful employment opportunities other than working in a dairy processing plant.
His appreciation of Gaelic games and the ideals of the Association really resonated with me.
He was an admirer of my home town and my club so the conversation flowed to talking about our heroes of bygone eras, men like Gene Morgan and Gene Larkin and men from our more recent successful era.
He was particularly fond of Cathal Short, someone who’s direct running and knack of being in the right place at the right time reminded him of his younger self.
As this man hung up the phone I was left to ponder our conversation.
He didn’t play football out of any sense of of self-importance or self-interest.
Yes, he played it as a form of recreation and perhaps to provide balance to a life consumed by economic strife and hardship.
More importantly than that, he played football as an expression of local pride and as a means of bringing joy and a healthy dose of positivity to the people of his parish. Surely this is the very definition of altruism.
The GAA was formed in 1884 for the preservation and cultivation of national pastimes. Such characteristics as local pride, volunteerism, and altruism form the foundation blocks of the GAA.
Without them, it would blend into the background alongside many other sports which are exciting, income generating and marketable but which have a hollow soul.
Yet many of these foundation blocks are being sternly tested, if not slowly eroded. Take amateurism for example. In the 20th century, the principal test of eligibility in most amateur organisations was whether an athlete had accepted monetary benefit from their participation
or if they had ever played with or against a professional – someone who had accepted pay for play.
The GAA hierarchy’s insistence of flogging the dead horse that is the International Rules series surely scuppers this principle.
Liberals among us would say if the principle doesn’t fit with the times, change it.
I imagine my caller would think of those whose reasons for playing are egotistical and mercenary an anathema to the values he holds dear.
I’ve been raised on the value of winning, not just competing but actually being the victor. When I play games with my kids I even struggle to let them win at times such is my competitive streak. I get a kick out of hitting the crossbar more often than an eight-year-old and I’m not embarrassed to say so.
I now question my thought processes, which have been unconsciously influenced by the broader sporting world’s drive towards professionalism.
Perhaps it is part of a wider cultural change as our nation becomes secular and our first thought is for ‘I’ rather than ‘we’.
The in-coming director general must cement the ideals of the GAA and halt its drive towards professionalism.
I have no doubt that the sport could thrive in the commercial world of professionalism but in doing so it would erode the values which made the men of ’72 heroes in the town of Ballinaghderreen – the same values shared by Dr Croke’s of Kerry as they claimed the All-Ireland title or those witnessed by the Cavanagh brothers of Moy only last week.
Progress along this path will impact club football in the same way as it will impact county football. The ideals of representing one’s community will ring hollow. When one looks at the bigger picture, winning might be satisfying but the pride of representing your friends and family on the field is much more fulfilling.
The changing mindset of GAA folk, where money is the predominant driving factor, means we are losing our grip on the amateur ethos that we cherish so dearly.
The GAA is merely one organisation in this changing society but it ought to be a leading light which is prepared to fight for the greater good of the community rather than blindly following other organisations, associations, groups and bodies down a path of egoism.