GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: We can't criticise what we don't understand

Jamie Clarke looks to be set for a return to the Armagh fold in 2017
Picture by Philip Walsh

IN THE wake of a county final defeat in 2011, myself and a few of the lads from home took ourselves off to Perth to see what the world was made of.

A year’s visa, a suitcase full of checked shirts and cheap sunglasses, there was no grand plan. Just go and see how much we like it, how long we can stick it.

We found that the world outside county Derry was made of sunshine. Beaches. Nightclubs. Fireworks. Parties. And even the odd person that wasn’t Irish.

A couple of evenings a week, down on the Esplanade that ran alongside the Swan River, a collection of Irish lads came together to play soccer.

The Esplanade stretches for miles. There were all manner of spontaneous sporting events taking place, destroying the romantic walk for those who wanted to bask in the gorgeous dusky skyline.

It was jumpers for goalposts material. The first night I went down, the pitch seemed to be a mile long. It must have been 25-a-side. It was carnage. It was great.

There was plenty in Australia to keep home at the forefront of the mind. Not least the volume of familiar accents that you would encounter on any given walk through the city. But it just wasn’t home.

From the end of October until the middle of February, I was utterly content. I told my employers at the time, who had held on to my job for a few months, that I was going to stay in Australia for the foreseeable.

And then the football started up at home. The pangs that had stayed locked in the suitcase for four months started to eat at me.

The Western Shamrocks offered Gaelic football, but the first training session I turned up to, there were 60-plus men. Training was at 6.30pm, and a good bit from where we were staying in Beckenham.

Getting away from work in Rockingham, some 40 minutes south, and then across the eight miles of city traffic to make it to training at Curtin University proved impossible. 

I gave up after landing 40 minutes late to a session that ended 10 minutes later. Not having that release proved too much to bear. With pre-season underway at home, I was on the plane by the middle of March, relieved to appear at the club the first Tuesday night and feel the biting north Derry wind cut at the ears.

That was me and the world finished. Now, I would go anywhere on holiday (between November and January...) and thoroughly enjoyed spending five days on the east coast of Australia on honeymoon last year, but I’d never go away to live again.

The world isn’t for everyone. For some people, like myself, the world starts and ends within 15 miles of home. Family and sport keep me very content indeed. That’s the way I like it.

It’s a stretch to suggest that the majority of GAA players think the same way. Every one of us is individual. I know fellas that have travelled away from home and stayed but never gotten over leaving their own club.

There are men who would absolutely love to travel but feel duty bound to the parish for as long as they’re physically able to pull on a pair of boots. Others, like Jamie Clarke, just go and do it. His kind of free-spirited outlook on life isn’t really understood in GAA circles.

There’s not a man among us that wouldn’t admit to hearing that a talented (or at least moderately useful) team-mate is heading to America in the summer and thinking ‘could he not go in November for a few months?’

The GAA defines the lives of thousands of young men, and women, on this island, but it’s not fair to castigate the few that don’t abide by that way of life.

There’s a lot of pressure put on young lads to stay around home for football, particularly if they are talented. Time was it would have been easier, when the local businessmen had jobs and money and freedom to give them. That’s not so plentiful now, but still we expect.

Stevie McDonnell, last week, probably hit the nail on the head in terms of the general feeling towards Clarke’s inter-county career.

“From a supporter point of view, I’ve been annoyed that he’s decided to travel over the last couple of years… Travelling can always happen, but you’re not always fit enough to play county football,” stated McDonnell.

If I was an Armagh supporter, I’d be guilty of thinking the same. Indeed, even as a neutral observer that has admired the Crossmaglen man’s talents, it can be hard to wrap your head around.

Australia's David Pocock recognises there is more to life than rugby  

But then you look at David Pocock and you see that some people are just determined to see the world. The Australian international back-row is one of the best players in world rugby. At the age of 27, he is hurtling towards his peak.

Offers from France would have made him the highest paid player in the world. The World Cup in 2019 is lurking on the horizon.

But instead, he will spend 2017 on a sabbatical from the professional game. He, like Clarke, is very much his own man. A fierce advocate of gay rights, he and his partner Emma Palandri said in 2011 that they would not get married until gay people in their home country are legally allowed to.

Two years ago, he was arrested after chaining himself to mining equipment in a protest against a coal mine: “Rugby is something that I love, but I certainly realise that there is a lot more to life than rugby,” he said recently.

“After 11 years of having your daily schedule and everything dictated down to the hour, I am not sure what next year will look like, but I am sure it will be interesting.”

Some people just don’t want to be chained to sport all their lives. And as hard as it may be, the rest of us don’t really have the right to judge what we don’t understand.


IT WAS with great sadness on Monday morning that our community learned of the tragic and untimely death of Ryan McCaul.

We still talk about “the good minor team” that we had 13 or 14 years ago and Ryan was the main man on that team, destroying opposition defences with his pace and his nose for goal.

It was sad that he never got to display his talents on the field as a fully-fledged senior, but his all-too-brief life was a remarkable beacon of hope for anyone that suffers adversity.

He came through an unbelievable amount in his 31 years, but in the last few years he took to raising money for charity by running marathons.

My heart goes out to Ryan’s parents Kieran and Edwina and siblings Ciara and Rory.

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