GAA Football

Kicking Out: A weekend of tears and tiers shows we have two different GAAs

Magherafelt captain Danny Heavron lifts the cup after beating Glen during the Derry Senior Football Championship Final at Celtic Park on Sunday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

IF ever there was overwhelming evidence that there are now two different GAAs, the weekend past provided it.

Celtic Park on Sunday was a scene like no other. By the time the intermediate final started, the stand was packed to capacity.

By the time the senior game threw in, more than 9,500 were packed into a venue that Derry GAA fans traditionally dislike travelling to.

Up behind the Brandywell goal, usually an empty desert, a pocket of young Rossas positioned themselves behind the goal and made their own little Hill 16, letting off red flares, dancing and singing their way through an historic day for the club.

When it was over, there was no mic for Danny Heavron to make his speech. And so the crowd stood in this surreal hush, and their leader stood orating beautifully, forgetting nobody.

Then, the immortal interview with clubmate, the BBC’s Thomas Niblock, in which he brought a tear to every single eye as he fought to keep his own back.

“I was praying to Mammy, that she would see it through.”

Brigid Heavron’s own name is immortalised by O’Donovan Rossas. Every year, they hold a glistening underage tournament in her honour.

There wasn’t a game that Magherafelt played at any level that she didn’t attend. She immersed herself in the club, where she had a huge role to play in organising the Sunday morning coaching sessions that gave rise to a generation of champions.

On Danny and Shane, she’d have smiled the proudest of smiles on Sunday night.

Two hours earlier, Foreglen lifted the intermediate title. They’re our own neighbours and I always remember Paddy Heaney writing on these pages about how good neighbours can drag you up the hill with them out of sheer jealousy.

You have to admire them. The Foreglen is a collection of hardly 100 houses. They escaped junior football on the same day we were relegated in 2003, and they haven’t been back.

Last Monday night, they played in a reserve championship final. All year, they’ve had 38, 39 men at training. That’s pretty much every adult male between the ages of 17 and 35, in the case of the ageless Kevin O’Connor.

“I was a bit sad lifting that cup because my brother Barry, my father, they’d have been the first men there today. Gary McGee, our goalkeeper, my uncle Paschal [McFeely], I could go on forever. I know these people are all watching down on us, I firmly believe that,” said the Foreglen captain.

In a tweet in the evening, Mary K Burke captured the joyous moment of the five Duffy brothers – Shane, John, Oisin, Ruairi and man-of-the-match Eoghan – lifting their mother Catherine into the sky.

I always think that if it weren’t for football, you wouldn’t even know your own relations. Catherine is a cousin of my own father, and a legend.

Always a bit of craic, when I worked in Dungiven she’d be in and out of the dry cleaners next door and always called in for the chat.

But like everyone, she’s had her cross to bear.

To see the light that football shines in on so many lives, all so evident on one pitch in the space of two hours, was the absolute best of the GAA.

It’s sad, yet necessary, to juxtapose it against Saturday’s Special Congress in Cork.

Over the last 15 years, by a process of gradual erosion, the GAA has been split. County boards are focussing almost all their energy on making the inter-county game competitive, at the absolute expense of the club game.

It would not be an irreversible situation if the GAA were interested in cutting back on the inter-county game in order to make way for more club action, but the decision to implement a tiered structure at the weekend spoke volumes for their intentions.

Special Congress itself can only be taken as having been carefully orchestrated by the GAA in order to ensure that they got what they wanted.

The room allowed the top table to just wave away the idea that introducing a tiered championship would make the work of the fixtures task force redundant, just weeks before its report is finalised.

Its work is now dead. We can say this with absolute authority because it’s very clear how Congress actually operates.

It allows the GAA to present itself as a democracy, and yet there hasn’t been a major change implemented within the organisation in recent years that hasn’t been as a result of a Central Council motion.

County delegates have become subservient to the hierarchy.

And can you really see Central Council putting its full weight behind a radical change to the current system when a vote on it will be held before a ball has been kicked under the one they voted in on Saturday?

Croke Park officials intensely dislike the perpetuation of the idea that they’re different, that they’re removed. And yet you can only judge on actions, not words.

That’s politics for you. The representation of the views of its thousands and thousands of members was left to 155 people, the majority of whom are a replica of what you’d find in the House of Parliament – old, greying and male.

In my eyes, they do not represent the GAA, because as a body they don’t reflect the views of those they purport to represent.

To be in Celtic Park on Sunday was to be part of the real GAA.

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