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The Greatest Sporting Organization in Ireland is the GAA
As I write, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is about to complete its 125th anniversary. 2009 saw many celebrations of this milestone, with thousands of clubs across Ireland celebrating in their own unique way.
The GAA organization and its games are truly unique in the world of sport. No other country in the world has a set of games played by amateurs and amateurs at a very high level of fitness and a huge degree of skill that attract huge audiences in Ireland and yet remain virtually unknown in any country in the world. With the exception of former Games organizing floors in the US, UK and Australia, these great games are ignored by the mainstream media around the world. And boy do they miss it!
For those who may not be familiar with Ireland’s national games, a brief introduction is in order. Gaelic games are broadly divided into football, hurling, camogie (effectively women’s hurling), women’s football and handball (similar to squash without the rackets). The first two mentioned are the main games played by men.
At the heart of the whole GAA system is the parish club and amateur ethos. There are over 2,500 clubs in Ireland’s 32 counties. No player in either sport receives a salary, and only at the highest administrative level are full-time officials paid and paid.
The volunteer aspect of the organization is incredible. Mentors and officials at club and county level work passionately to ensure the games continue for generations as other sports compete to attract the kids who make up the future. For a sport confined to the island of Ireland, the appeal and sheer power it holds is a phenomenon you don’t see anywhere else in the world of sport.
The amateur aspect is also key to its success. Gaelic sporting heroes are tangible, ordinary men and women who perform heroics on the pitch, watched by thousands and a much larger television audience. Still, they have a job on Monday, whether it’s a construction site, an accounting practice, a teaching job or a university place. These young men and women are sensitive and sensitive people you meet down the pub over a beer, largely ignored by their local peers but mega-stars in the national media. They live an ordinary life with their feet firmly on the ground. There is little room for posers in the GAA changing rooms and the down to earth attitude of most players, famous or not, is instilled in them from an early age.
As a huge force for good in any community, whether small village or large city, it is impossible to calculate the huge cultural and personal benefits that flow from the presence of a GAA club.
At a higher level, the success of the game has allowed the GAA and Ireland to have one of the largest stadiums in the world – namely Croke Park on the north side of Dublin. This stadium has a long history, but the foresight of the GAA’s upper echelon to virtually demolish it gradually, while retaining the Championship fixture schedule, and completely rebuild it with a capacity of 82,000 by 2005, was a huge feat for the amateurs. organization. There is no Croke Park but many fantastic stadiums around the country such as the hurling fortress Semple Stadium in Thurles, Pairc O Caoimbh in Cork and Clones in Monaghan to name but a few.
It speaks to the quality of the people running the organization when you see the wreckage their FAI counterparts have made of football at local and national level, despite the great years of the 80s and 90s when football’s profile was so high. with the success Jack Charlton brought to team and country. The incompetent imbeciles posing as professional administrators at the FAI could take a lesson from what the football brigade mocks as the Grab All Association.
It should more properly be described as the Give Away Association when one sees the funds filtering down to ground level and creating high standard facilities in every small village and town while the football clubs are still dragging their feet and the national team is homeless!
Some archaic administrative system where the existence of county councils, provincial councils and central council levels of administration are often criticized for not being able to solve problems quickly. There is more than a degree of truth to this, and it has often led to deadlocks in trying to reach important decisions. None more so than the heated and controversial decision to open Croke Park to facilitate the playing of football and rugby, games once foreign to GAA culture due to the British occupation of Ireland at the time of the Association’s founding in 1884.
This mindset was reinforced by the memory of the barbaric act by British forces in 1921 when they entered Croke Park in armored cars and opened fire on spectators and players without warning. Thirteen people were killed on that day of infamy, including one player, Michael Hogan, after whom the Hogan Stand is now named.
Thereafter, members of the British forces were not allowed to be members of the GAA. As the state evolved into what it is now, the 26-county Republic of Ireland and the separate British-administered 6-county province of Ulster, the ban applied to members of the then RUC (now PSNI) until recent years. .
The most controversial aspect of the GAA’s rules that came into force from the 1920s was what was known as the “Prohibition”. This rule prevented Gaelic games players from taking part in what were called “overseas games”, meaning football and rugby. These two games were considered British games and therefore foreign to Irish culture. It was the most ridiculous rule ever invented by the GAA and was broken so many times by so many different methods that public opinion forced the organization to scrap the rule in 1972.
That the rule has lasted this long is not something the GAA should be proud of.
The controversy over the opening of Croke Park to football and rugby thus had its roots in events many years earlier. It took three years for the proposal to be approved to allow this to happen, and history has proven to be a major stumbling block to progress.
However, one of this writer’s great memories was watching Ireland defeat England in the 2006 6-Nations Rugby Championship in a charged and indescribable cauldron of emotion and pride.
May these wonderful, unique games be with us to enjoy and as 2010 brings the GAA into its 126th year, may the volunteer aspect always remain!
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