Tag Archives: FAI

The last shall be First

Come the end of the summer I had been building up a right head of steam attending Waterford United matches. But then I stopped. When the always slim chance of topping the division rode out of town, I decided to stay at home of a Friday evening with mother and child. Best to keep my powder dry until the playoffs.

Ain’t karma a bitch?

Speaking to a knowledgeable League of Ireland watcher a few weeks before the denouement in Cobh, I learned that the charge up the table of Mervue United was not a fluke. They had blossomed under Johnny Glynn and said watcher had even had a punt on them to win the whole thing at the start of the season. He had lost that bet but it showed that, in his eyes anyway, they were no mugs, and so it proved with a storming finish to pip us at the post. Fair play to them – the bastards.

In fairness to all concerned at the club the damage had been at the start of the season. There was a point where finishing ahead of Finn Harps and Wexford Youth seemed unlikely, so for the Blues to finish as high as they did was creditable. And while I would never claim that not reaching the playoffs is a good thing, even with our lamentable record there, there were positives at the time in a way there were not last season. It has been an exciting season in the First Division, certainly more so than any of the grand leagues around Europe have been. The relegation of Shelbourne means that we could look forward to a fresh face in the division, one that (dare I say as much) has a proper pedigree attached to it. Longford or Mervue would probably have a better stab at nobbling at winning the promotion playoff, thanks to our lamentable record there, which might see another face at the RSC next season. Okay, Bray never get relegated and UCD wouldn’t add much to the gaiety of nations but they were nice thoughts while they lasted. Factor in how the sword of Damocles that was the Stephen Henderson case no longer loomed over our heads, and it was possible to view another season in the eight-team First Division with a degree of good cheer.

How naive it would be though to assume that these matters would be decided on the pitch. For the last week we’ve had the astonishing possibility that Mervue would win the playoff over Longford but not be able to take their place against the team that finished bottom of the Premier Division because Mervue were being subsumed, along with the Salthill Devon and the supporters of the former Galway United, into a new Galway FC outfit. There’s a part of me that would have relished this outcome, emphasising as it would the sheer incompetence of the FAI. But let’s not be completely nihilistic about this. Let’s hope Longford overcome Bray for the reasons I mentioned earlier – a First Division with two new members from the Pale would be a much more interesting prospect than the culchiefest we have now.

(Of course, as things stand there are only going to be six teams in the First Division next season. Having spoken to the League of Ireland watcher about it, I can understand the decision to rationalise the teams in Galway. Even if Mervue and Salthill were willing to field teams alongside the phoenix of Galway United, putting out three teams from one pool of talent in Galway would lead to all three of them being weakened, potentially fatally. Enough with the nihilism. Let’s assume the FAI will pull a couple of Cobh-shaped rabbits from the hat for next year’s First Division, right? Right?!)

For Waterford, the priority for 2014 is clear – sort out the manager. I’ve checked back through the archives and am as relieved as the FAI over Mervue not reaching the promotion/relegation playoff to discover that I didn’t leave myself any hostages to fortune with respect to Roddy Collins, although I’m sure I would have had some snarky thoughts when he was appointed manager of Athlone Town. There’s something deeply irritating about his particular brand of bluster, but there’s no denying the turnaround he has wrought for Athlone, going from 29 points in 2012  to 55 points in 2013  (for your own sanity, don’t dwell on how many points the Blues got in 2012 when set against how many were enough for Athlone to win the division in 2013). In a division where it’s difficult to differentiate between teams by transfer fees and wage bills, because there are no transfer fees and no one pays much in the way of wages in the first place, a manager who knows what they are doing is worth their weight in gold. Perhaps Tommy Griffin is that man. The Blues only picked up three wins in the eleven games when Paul O’Brien was manager. Even a modest improvement on that might have been enough to have secured promotion. Big decisions ahead – both for the Blues and the FAI.

Advertisements

Survival of the most devious

I’ve long felt that one of soccer’s great advantages over the GAA is the clarity it has with respect to players and their teams. While they have representative teams, such as internationals, inter-varsity and youth teams, ultimately you are registered for one club. Maybe the initial aim of the founders of the GAA was the club to have supremacy – witness how the very early All-Irelands consisted of teams from the county champions rather than county teams as we understand them – but the big prize are the inter-county competitions and a sniff of success at Senior, Under-21 or Minor level can wreak havoc with club matches at all levels even between the two codes. There’s little of that ambiguity in soccer, so a player at the lowest level of soccer can be certain of getting his (I thought about saying ‘her’, but I’m so ignorant of women’s sports that I couldn’t be sure it’s the same for women playing soccer as it is for men) regular fix of games while the average GAA club player goes through the summer wondering whether the needs of the fancy Dans on the county team will mean they’ll lurch from one week to the next uncertain of getting a game.

So bearing that in my mind, it’s incredible how often the authorities in Irish soccer manage to screw up player registration. Before we consider the seemingly low-level brouhaha emerging from last Friday’s match between Waterford United and Dundalk, it’s important to note that this issue led to a change in the destination of the League of Ireland title. Back in 2001/2, St Patrick’s Athletic got into trouble over this and had an eye-watering 15 points deducted for fielding an ineligible player, a punishment that directly cost them the title – Pat’s still claim to have won the League that year, their website blandly noting it in their history in the same breath as winning the Leinster Senior Cup the previous season. Clicking through each season on Wikipedia shows it is a common occurrence and makes you wonder just how hard it can be to make sure a player X is registered before date Y.

Clearly it’s harder than it looks, because the Blues are claiming that Michael Rafter, Dundalk’s two-goal hero last Friday (and I note in passing that the first goal was a corker), was ineligible. The minutiae of the issue between professional and amateur players seems to be the reason that this comes up on such a frequent basis. Dundalk were able to exploit this in 1997 when they parachuted in an amateur player at the last-minute who went on to score two goals in a 3-0 win in the first leg. Isn’t ironic? Well, aprés Ed Byrne, it’s more a pain in the arse.

Reading the tea leaves, Waterford’s chances of success look slim. Dundalk’s statement on the matter seems robust and you can only assume Waterford’s appeal is based on some evidence that Dundalk are covering up for a cock-up. However, combine utter desperation on Waterford’s part due to the situation we’ve been put in with a feeling that wacky decisions routinely wend their way out of Abbotstown, and it wouldn’t make any sense for the Blues not to appeal. The rewards of a successful appeal far outweigh the disdain that will come from every other club regardless of the outcome. It’s incredible how such a small, put-upon league can manage to set everyone against each other rather than clubbing together. Maybe it’s part of the FAI’s plan, a Darwinian plan to root out the weak. If that’s the plan, it seems to be working.

First among unequals

A prophet is never recognised in his own land, so that must make me a prophet. And I certainly felt like one this morning when reading Fran Gavin’s rationale for keeping the Premier Division of the League of Ireland at 12 teams for the 2013 season. I’ve read through it several times and can’t believe that the Irish soccer fraternity has not exploded with rage. Instead there is a sense of resignation about it all. Clearly there is nothing new in Gavin’s shoulder-shrugging attitude to the plight of the clubs in the First Division. I still have much to learn – assuming there’ll be a Waterford United around from which to learn.

Still, it’s worth breaking down what he has to say:

The board has the opinion that the 12-team Premier Division works. With promotion and relegation, there is something to play for right up until the end of the season.

I’m presuming ‘the board’ consists of the 19 League clubs, and you can’t blame the majority of turkeys opting to give Christmas a wide berth. The Dublin clubs in particular must like an extra round of derbies each season. The problem is Fran Gavin’s tacit acceptance that relegation is essential to the Premier Division. The top clubs need to live in fear of something or else they’ll get complacent as the season wore on. And what could be worse than relegation to that? It should also be noted that if relegation is such a core part of the Premier Division experience, why do everything they can to minimise the chance of it happening? This year the team that finish bottom will get a playoff against (barring some spectacular implosion on Limerick’s part) Longford or Waterford. So even the worst team in the Premier Division gets a do-over. Why not relegate them automatically, have the second-placed team automatically promoted to replace Monaghan and have the team that finish second-last play off against the team that finished third? I bet the clubs got to vote on this too. Is there any leadership in the FAI?

I can understand the frustration of the First Division clubs.

No, you can’t. You just can’t. If you did, you’d be doing more for their interests. Instead we have:

There generally isn’t a shortage of interest but it does tend to come down to a question of whether they can operate at the level that we require.

We’ll just have to wait and see what comes in by the deadline. Ideally we would like to increase the number, though, and what has definitely come across in the meetings with the clubs is the clubs’ frustration with having an uneven number and everything that goes with that

Translation: you’re going to do NOTHING. Do you have a minimum number of clubs below which the First Division can not fall? What are you going to do to ensure there are more than seven teams in the First Division? What is the plan if there are no expressions of interest? “Wait and see what comes in by the deadline”? Can you not see how wrong that is? How many question marks can it be possible to generate from such a short statement? And there’s a sting in the tail especially for supporters of the Blues:

Waterford has a great history and we’re here to help the club but we have to look at the league as a whole.

Well, isn’t that sweet. To paraphrase the sage Meat Loaf, you’ll do anything for us but you won’t do that. If the FAI are ‘here to help’, it would be useful if we could have some evidence of it. Answering some of the questions above would suggest you are indeed here to help, but in the absence of any plan then one must assume you’re content to let the First Division clubs, whether they have a great history or not, wither on the vine.

I felt sympathy for Fran Gavin when Monaghan United so abruptly left the League back in June. He was dealt a crappy hand and played it as well as could have been expected. Yet three months later he’s still behaving as if he can’t do anything about the direction of the League of which he’s meant to be the Director. The only direction the First Division seems to be heading at the moment is the same way as Thelma & Louise.

Monsters Inc

A few weeks back in the glorious days of Tramore Hinterland (“glorious” because my utterings were actually worth something tangible), I wrote about how the decline of the League of Ireland seemed to have bottomed out. As the league resumes after the break for the European Championships, the news that came out of Monaghan last Monday made such a notion look narcissistic. I’m following it on a regular basis now so it must be okay, right? Wrong, and what’s more you have to worry that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a very good article on Extratime which shows with whom the fault lies in the League of Ireland – everybody, which is a counter-intuitive way of looking at it given the viewpoint of Shelbourne chairman Joe Casey that neither the FAI or Monaghan United is to blame. Joe is being too kind. It’s staggering to see that most clubs will pay more to be part of the League of Ireland than they’ll ever receive in prize money. Are the FAI trying to set clubs up for a fall? On the other hand, his mindset reflects that despite everything there’s still an inate inability in the League to live within your means. I know he’s making a general point and it’s unfair to zero in on examples chucked out in the course of an interview, but are we really meant to be believe that it’s impossible to legislate for pitch damage and Garda costs? We’re talking about a club who employed Roddy Collins, who you can be sure didn’t come cheap, yet have the cheek in their Twitter feed to blame the FAI for everything. Yep, everyone involved is to blame, and trying to absolve people on the basis that they all have the best of intentions is just going to let the problem fester.

Seeing as I was getting all radical yesterday regarding that most sacred of cows known as the Munster hurling championship, a little fighting talk regarding the League of Ireland will not go amiss. The FAI should embrace the opportunity from this crisis to impose some form of collective bargaining on the League of Ireland. It may sound corny to say that soccer is predicated on a system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, but it’s true. When Manchester City won the English Premier League last season they received more prize money than anyone else. So they get rewarded for their success and their opponents get proportionately punished for their failure. It’s the economics of the madhouse, yet I’d guess it’s the way every league in Europe is set up.

Ironically the Premier League has got progressive tendencies. Thanks to the collective TV deal clubs lower down the league get far more than they would get in a purely free market system. For evidence of what happens in such a system, look no further than Spain. And don’t concentrate on the points tally, the goal difference is much more telling:

I’m not sure how collective bargaining would work in practice. The more radical elements, such as sharing all ticket revenue, would probably be illegal under EU law as a restriction on trade. But the FAI need to ensure that every club has a minimum source of income so they can’t turn around and claim that they couldn’t afford to pay the costs of policing games. Something has to give. The authorities cannot seriously think ‘more of the same’ is the way forward. Can they?

Oh, and before anyone blames the average Irish soccer fan and their event-junkie mentality which sees them spend thousands going to Gdansk but won’t spend tens to go to Gortakeegan, just remember that while you might be righteously correct it’s not usually a good idea to blame your potential customers for your failures, mmkaay?

Behind the 8 ball

A few weeks back, Waterford United made much of the fact that they were holding the price of a season ticket at last season’s rate. “The Airtricity League First Division is expected to comprise 12 teams this season, which will mean 16 or 17 home matches” went the blurb.

Oh silly Blues! Did they not realise this was the FAI they were dealing with? The big reveal for the 2012 Airtricity First Division is that despite efforts to get Red Star Oughterard and FC United of Moycullen on board, there will be eight teams in the division for the new season. So the proposition that the season ticket represented great value for money, always a bit of stretch as it assumed you’d be in a position to go to all 16/17 games, has now completely gone down in flames. It’s like trying to fit a pint into a quart pot.

The worst part is the quality of the opposition. How are you meant to get the blood up at the prospect of meeting any of this lot four times a year? At least in previous seasons you had the likes of Derry City, Shelbourne and whatever flavour of stout was oozing out of Cork that wasn’t Guinness coming to the RSC. In 2012, the most exciting prospect is a notional derby with Mick Wallace’s crew. Liverpool v Manchester United it ain’t.

And you don’t even need to look cross-channel to see more exciting clashes. It’s conceivable that the matches between the Dublin heavyweights of Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic will generate more bums on seats than every game in the First Division combined. And thus the rich (relatively speaking) get richer and the poor get poorer, all so we can prop up the flawed concept of the two division League of Ireland.

No doubt some would argue this is a self-serving Blue trying to perform an end-run around Waterford’s repeated failure to get promoted, and there’d be some merit to that argument. But it isn’t just Waterford fans who must find it hard to get enthused by the fixture list. Would a potential Wexford Youth not be more energised if they knew Shamrock Rovers were coming to Ferrycarrig at least once a year? Is it not galling for Finn Harps fans to be trudging around the country, all the while passing Sligo and Derry but never getting to take a pit stop there? Won’t someone please think of the children?

I’m sure the First Division was started with the best of intentions, a reaction to the need to give meaning to dreary end-of-season games where there is no promotion or relegation. And I guess that problem will return in a one division League. But can anyone say that’s an inferior scenario to the current one, where a micro-league exists just to put the fear of God into those in the proper league that they might be banished from it? It’s time for the authorities to cut their losses on the First Division. Time to give every club a chance to sell a season ticket that’s worth buying.

Play on? Play off!

englandpenalty

I’ve been convinced for many years now that when it comes to League of Ireland playoffs, no one can screw it up quite like Waterford United. I was certain that at one point back in the 1990’s the only team from the top division to fail to stay up after the playoffs were the Blues – and we’d managed it twice. This is all anecdotal though, so I decided to do some research using that admittedly anecdotal repository, Wikipedia, and this is what I found:

  • The Blues lost the first ever promotion/ relegation playoff in 1992/3, going down 5-2 on aggregate to the First Division team Monaghan United.
  • The playoff was staged in this format with minimal tweaks each subsequent year until 2003. Of the twelve playoffs, the team in the top flight only lost three times: Athlone Town in 1995/6 and the Blues in that first staging in 1992/3 and in 1999/2000 to Kilkenny City. The Blues almost managed to lose once from the First Division in 1996/7 when they were beaten 3-1 on aggregate by Dundalk.
  • There was no playoff in 2004.
  • The pattern of Premier beating First was bucked in 2005 when Dublin City beat Shamrock Rovers and restored in 2006 when Dundalk beat – you’ve guessed it – Waterford United. The Blues stayed up though thanks to FAI licencing regulations.
  • With the natural order restored, it was just the time for the Blues to buck it again, losing to First Division Finn Harps in the 2007 playoff.

There was no playoff in 2008, which leads us up to the present day. Waterford have been in five playoffs and lost every one of them. Of fifteen stagings of the playoffs, the Premier Division side has survived on ten occasions. A ratio of 2:1 wouldn’t be statistically significant until you consider that three of the five Premier Division losers have been Waterford United. Sometimes, much like England in penalty shootouts, the anecdotes are accurate. Those stuck in the Premier Division mire must be praying for the Blues to reach the playoff.

Justice must not only be done, but be seen to be believed

21 Waterford United v Bohemians 26 September 2009 68

As sports fans go I like to think I’m pretty reasonable, or at least reasonable enough to know the limits of my own reasonableness (er . . . ) The knucklehead mentality that assumes referees are out to get you grates on my nerves. Incompetence is one thing, bias is another. Referees are routinely duped by players yet fans hypocritically blame the man with the whistle – don’t want to have to point the finger of blame at one of your own players when they engage in a spot of on-field thesping, do you?

The performance of Derek Tomney on Saturday should be viewed through this prism. He had two major decisions to make in the first half and as far as everyone in Blue was concerned he got both wrong leading to a tsunami of abuse being poured on his head as he left the pitch. How could he sleep at night? Watching MNS the other night, the answer was ‘pretty soundly’. The first decision, the handball for the free that produced the first goal, was a blatant handball. Sitting where I was it looked like it struck a Bohs player, but it was definitely Kevin Murray. The second decision, the penalty, was much more contentious. Watching it again there was minimal contact between the luckless / foolish Murray and the Bohs forward, and you can almost imagine the Bohs players winking at his team mates as he received their high-fives. But the ref can certainly say with an utterly straight face that it was a penalty. More importantly, what he would have seen in real time would have looked like a penalty. Most of the other decisions he made regarding potential Waterford frees and handbags at five paces were all individually justifiable. Yep, Mr Tomney wouldn’t have needed any sleeping pills that night.

Whether the ref has a record in screwing the Blues is not something I’m qualified to comment on. A less emollient assessment of talents can be found here.

What was extraordinary though is the fact that Derek Tomney is from Dublin. Some might suggest that that’s too much of a GAA perspective, that a fan of (say) Shamrock Rovers is going to love nothing more than putting the boot in to Bohs. And instinctively one must assume that it would be difficult to stage a League of Ireland match if you were to exclude all Dublin refs from matches involving Dublin teams, a point alluded to in this thread.

But difficult isn’t the same as impossible, and the appearance of impropriety is what matters here. Mike Dean was initially selected to referee the 2006 English FA Cup final, but had to be removed when Liverpool ended up getting through because a native of the Wirral was considered to be closer to Liverpool than was comfortable. The nature of the relationship between Liverpool and the Wirral (‘over the water’) is something I am qualified to comment on. In a nutshell, they’re not that close. If a fellow native of Heswall like Jim Bowen can end up supporting Blackburn Rovers, then you can see that the ties that bind the Wirral to Liverpool are not that strong. But the suggestion of impropriety was enough. By allowing Dublin refs to take charge of games involving Dublin teams, the FAI isn’t doing the likes of Derek Tomney any favours.

The wretched of the earth

Eamonn Sweeney is as curious a hack as there is going. The first time he entered my consciousness was the publication of his book There’s Only One Red Army, a paean of praise to the virtues of following Sligo Rovers. I haven’t read the book, and my kneejerk reaction on reading the reviews was that this would be a typical blast from a chip-on-the-shoulder League of Ireland diehard who can’t understand why the domestic game isn’t carrying all before it and it must be the fault of the beastly GAA with their bog ball and their bog hockey.

Still haven’t read the book, so there’s a remote possibility that my initial prejudices were correct. But they’d be very remote as Sweeney has written some very complimentary things over the years about the GAA in general and Waterford in particular. Indeed his defence of Waterford in the face of Brian Corcoran’s withering comments about us in his autobiography was enough to make a grown man weep. Predictably I haven’t been able to find them online, but the most memorable comment was to the effect that Corcoran may have thought Waterford would try to drag the game down to their level but that Waterford had dragged the game up to a level that Cork couldn’t reach in the 2004 Munster final. I never had any great issue with Corcoran’s comments – one must assume they were what he thought at the time and all you can do is either agree or disagree with the sentiments – but it was nice to see a prominent hack leap to Waterford’s defence.

Having established Sweeney’s credentials as a latter-day sporting Renaissance man, time to plunge the knife. He was writing this week about the attitudes towards the League of Ireland (h/t to FootballPress, not that he’d appreciate it). It’s hard to dispute his central contention, that it’s not enough for certain sports fans to ignore domestic soccer and how many people get a good kick out of giving the League of Ireland a good kick. I’ve done it myself more than once and, having recently observed first-hand the aching sincerity of people following the Blues, can admit to feeling rather guilty about it.

Two things stuck in the craw though. Let’s take the shallowness of following teams in England as a given. It’s certainly true that it is relatively easy given that few people choose to support the bad teams. But if Liverpool FC were to implode and vanish from the earth, Colm Cooper and his ilk wouldn’t turn around and satisfy their love of soccer with . . . well, who would Colm Cooper support in the League of Ireland? Limerick United / City / 37 / FC? Having grown up in a GAA household, albeit one without any trace of supremacism, it never entered the heads of our parents to bring us to soccer matches. Chiding Colm Cooper for hankering after Anfield while not following the domestic game is akin to criticising a Protestant for going to St Peter’s and not getting Mass.

Secondly, and this is the elephant in the League of Ireland room, why is there no questioning of those who now go cross channel where they once went to the likes of Kilcohan Park? While perusing the match programme for the St Patrick’s Athletic game, I was gobsmacked to find that there were five thousand people at the quarter-final against Drogheda United in 1997. Those are the people Eamonn Sweeney should be chasing to account for the gap of at least 4,300 on the match against Pats. You’re unlikely to find them at a league match in Walsh Park.

While it’s reasonable for Eamonn Sweeney to be irritated by those who would “recommend that [the League of Ireland] be liquidated altogether”, some of those people would be genuinely concerned at the seeming death-spiral of professional soccer in Ireland. In their book Why England Lose: and Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski noted that people ‘reward success and shun failure‘ (another book I haven’t read. Oh the shame). You don’t have to hate the League of Ireland to propose outlandish schemes to fix it; carrying on the way things are doesn’t look like an option if you want the League to be a success, or at least successful enough that people reward it with their bums on seats.

I’m not pushed. My future presence at the RSC will not be determined by whether Waterford can win things or not. It’s been great craic thus far, but the occasionally rancid contempt in which the GAA is held can be off-putting. Eamonn Sweeney has the experience to straddle the fence. Time will tell whether I’m too long in the tooth to learn this new trick.

Happy are those who believe

No sooner than I have leapt to the GAA’s defence against the insinuation that the Grab All Association doesn’t look after the peons at the bottom of the pyramid, than the GAA announces a €38 million investment at club level (I hate the phrase ‘grassroots’), a cash injection funded in no small part by revenue from the rental of Croke Park. So many thanks to the IRFU and the FAI.

Read the full story here.

Love me, love the GAA!

Emmet Malone, writing in The Irish Times (subs needed – but the pertinent quote can be found in the summary) a few weeks back, referred to the late Brian Moore and his regret at the effect Sunday afternoon highlights packages had on the attendances at matches in the League of Ireland and the Irish League. Anyone, like myself, who has grown up viewing the stories of Cecil B DeMille-style attendances at League of Ireland matches in the 1950’s and 1960’s with eyebrow-raising scepticism should take heed of such warnings from history. In the wake of Daire Whelan’s excoriating account of the decline of domestic soccer in Who Stole Our Game?, it should be obvious how television has cut a savage swathe through sporting attendances, and only the paranoid have survived.

With that tangent fixed firmly in mind, picture the scene in the deiseach household: the convalescing man of the house, his English wife, her English friend, our English neighbour and his virulently anti-GAA wife, come together to sup wine and talk crap in the finest Irish tradition, the one that Maeve Binchy encapsulated when she referred to a nation that valued talkers, not listeners.

Virulent is too strong. She is hardly the only person to have been turned off, not without good reason, from the skullduggery that has permeated the GAA throughout its history. Her thought processes veered off from a spot of de Valera bashing – nothing inherently wrong with that – into the usual litany of crimes committed by the GAA, i.e.

  • personal accounts of the madness of The Ban (an incident which occurred over half a century ago and impossible to happen for thirty-six years since Rule 27 was abolished; curious how, amidst much talk about the joys of rugby, the inviolate prohibition on players who ‘went North‘ or the IRFU’s rancid attitude to apartheid South Africa, both of which still pertained as recently as the 1980’s, was never alluded to)
  • the mean-spiritedness of the local club regarding a stage show that she was involved with (impossible to defend)
  • the travesty of making the Waterford team travel up to Dublin on a train on the day of the match last Sunday, in contrast to the local golf club which always sent teams up to stay in a hotel the night before (golfers presumably tee off first thing in the morning; what benefit you’d get from having a team farting around Dublin until 4pm was left unsaid)
  • the habitual moan that “I paid for the rebuilding of Croke Park, I should get a say in how it’s used” mantra (so should taxpayers get access to your house because you benefitted from mortgage interest relief? This was dismissed as “not being the same thing at all”. Actually, in an economic sense, it is exactly the same thing)

None of this was worthy of getting het up over. People are entitled to hold all of the above against the GAA. What sent me off the rails was when the rhetorical question was asked, “what do they do with the money?” 80,000 people at Croke Park last Sunday paying €40 a head, you’ve got to ask what they do with the money?

Well, I suggested that splendor of the GAA’s facilities up and down the country might account for it. When an Irish Independent hack visited a Dublin cricket club in the aftermath of Ireland’s heroics in the West Indies during the summer to have a go at putting willow to leather, he was shocked at how poor the facilities were. He even went so far as to say they were far worse than those he utilised during his brief underage hurling career in Tipperary. That, I suggested, was where the money was going.

Nonsense, I was told, and was treated to some apocryphal tale of poor hurling clubs on the telly recently who couldn’t get some essential facilities. Clearly this club showed how the money was not getting to the fabled grassroots.

So where, I asked (shouted, I ruefully confess), do you think the money is going? Ah, that’s the question, “what do they do with the money?”, the implication of it being used to buy guns for the IRA or feather Frank Murphy‘s nest being clear. Thankfully, Mrs deiseach stepped in this point to prevent me from going into complete meltdown and the conversation was steered towards more mundane (and sociable topics).

Three lessons came from the evening.

First, I need to control my temper.

Second, I can cope with many criticisms of the GAA, but the idea that the megabucks that have flowed from Croke Park have been frittered away is hard to take. All sports have had to face the rapaciousness of television since the 1970’s. Soccer’s abdication of the domestic game as a spectator sport is well documented. What is more surprising is the implosion of athletics. Paul Daffey wrote on the Morton Mile (subs required) and how crowds of 20,000+ in 1958 for an amateur show had dwindled to double figures by 2007. Rugby has retreated to its ghettos in south Dublin, Limerick and Ulster. This stands in stark contrast to the backwoodsmen of the GAA. Once upon a time, the GAA seemed to be going down the same road, nine thousand hardy souls attending the 1985 All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Galway and Cork. Twenty-two years later, Waterford’s three appearances in Croke Park would, in conjunction with other matches, garner a collective attendance of over 230,000 people. All this despite being televised! All hail an organisation which has taken on the television bogeyman as fretted about by Brian Moore – and won.

And the third lesson? Foreigners are entirely ignorant of the GAA, which means they are blank canvases on which the Irish can paint their opinions. My neighbour’s husband casually buys into the backwoodsman theory of the GAA as expressed by his wife. Later on in the evening, my wife would express “100% agreement” with my analysis. 100% agreement? To my own surprise, it seems that I really love Dis Great Asssooosheeayshun Of Ours.