Tag Archives: IRFU

Tramore Hinterland – When rugby singing suddenly stops

(pdf of article)

This week in your IR£1.18 – get ready, it’s coming back – Tramore Hinterland the strange circumstances that created a sense of solidarity around the Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup, and why it might not be what the IRFU were looking for.

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The Heineken Cup semi-finals take place at the weekend and there has been much feverish debate about . . . whaddya mean you didn’t know they were on? I thought you were the biggest baddest rugger-supporting mutha in the land. Oh right. Only when Munster are involved.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Continue reading

Free to do whatever I want

Pat Rabbitte has announced what sports are to be protected as free-to-air (h/t to AFR):

Live Basis
The Summer Olympics.
The All-Ireland Senior Football & Hurling Finals.
Ireland’s qualifying games in the European Football Championship & World Cup.
Opening games, semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship Finals and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament.
The Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby.
The Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show.

Deferred Basis
Ireland’s games in the Six Nations Rugby Football Championship.

In other words, no change. However, there is a curious coda which merits further examination:

He also noted that the Six Nations will remain designated as deferred but that it is in fact shown live. The Minister stated that he would be prepared to intervene in the event that it was proposed in the future that the Six Nations would no longer be available live and free to air. He also noted that based on GAA assurances, he believes that the events which were considered for designation will continue to be shown on a free to air basis.

Taken at face value, the part about the Six Nations makes no sense. It’s designated as deferred, but should there be a risk that it ceases to be live then he’ll have it designated as live. So why not remove this ambiguity and designate it as live? This status has the IRFU’s fingerprints all over it. No doubt it was sold to the Minister on the basis that this is the way it is in the UK and what a regulatory mess it would be to have a different rule here than there and you can be sure that we as custodians of the great and noble game of rugby union would never ever sell the jewel that is the Six Nations to anything as vulgar as the highest bidder oh and thanks for leaving the Heineken Cup alone have you lost weight my that suit makes you look slimmer Louis Copeland is it that’s where we get all our suits…

Okay, there’s a bit of artistic licence in there but you get the point. Sports organisations like to claim that they would never sell such venerable events as the Six Nations or the All-Ireland senior finals to subscription channels but they would like to be able to maintain full commercial bargaining rights – I recall Jack Boothman making this point quite forcefully when he was President in a radio debate on the subject. And they must think we’re all completely stupid, not least the beancounters at Sky and ESPN. Who in their right mind is going to bid for an event that they know they’re not going to be sold, and even if they were – gasp! Sports administrators have their heads turned by filthy lucre! – that the government will step in to prevent it?

There are two non-insane interpretations, neither of them palatable for the Irish sports fan. The first and the more likely scenario is that even the hint of losing it to Sky will push up the price RTÉ or TV3 bids for a package. Can you ever see RTÉ letting go of the Six Nations? There are no lengths that mandarins at Montrose will not go to get their fix of rugby so we can expect RTÉ’s (read: the licence payers) bid to creep inexorably up at the mere mention of the Dirty Digger. More apocalyptically, the possibility of a British government stepping in to protect the Six Nations from subscription channels has receded greatly in the last year as the Conservatives are not going to be inclined to back up the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation against the hero who broke the power of the unions on Fleet Street. The logic that we should swim against the flow of the regulatory (pun unintended) tide on the mainland (use of outrageous term intended) would still apply should Sky gain control of the other three unions on these islands. And before you know it Ireland’s next Grand Slam can only be viewed by those in pubs or with subscriptions. We also may need pressure suits for the globally-warmed environment of 2070, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

And you know what? I don’t care. The only event I want to see is Waterford win the All-Ireland and I plan to be there in the flesh. Hopefully advances in longevity will be such that I’ll be well able for our next appearance in 2053.

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.

The Friend Of My Enemy

I don’t want to seem shallow or feeble minded – sez he, about to demonstrate both characteristics in spades – but my opinion on certain subjects can be changed by seeing who agrees with me on the subject. A good example is Kevin Myers. If I find myself in agreement with him, I immediately wonder what fascist viewpoint I have found myself allied with. If Kevin Myers thinks it’s a good thing, then it must be bad.I had a similar experience at the weekend. I’ve always been quite ambivalent towards the idea of opening up Croke Park to other sports (see Build It, They Will Come.) Surely the mad clamour to allow “forin’ sports” into Croke Park was motivated by filthy lucre? And the idea of letting the FAI in made me want to chuck, with its glorious celebration of the term “Republic of Ireland.”

Which reminds me. My old primary school principal once upbraided me for calling this country – the 26 Counties, that is – ‘Ireland’. “We live in the island of Ireland,” he pompously informed me. “The country we live in is the Republic of Ireland.” I was only 11 at the time, but if he said that to me now, I would whip out Bunracht na hÉireann and point out Article 1, which states that “the name of the country is Éire, or in the English language, Ireland.” He was heavily involved in schoolboy’s soccer, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

They should be sweating over at WordPress now, because I’m probably going to libel the bould Frank, but to see this . . . respected and venerated figure in the GAA community preventing a recount simply on the basis that it had never been done before had me reaching for the Rennies.

I have no doubt that Frank Murphy is a hard working and efficient administrator, and has devoted a lifetime to the GAA – and yes, I am damning him with faint praise here – but Frank Murphy is only concerned with one thing: Cork. If it’s good for Cork, it’s good for the GAA. Anything else can go hang. This is the same Frank Murphy who regularly ensures that Aodhan Mac Suibhne referees big Cork matches. This is the same Frank Murphy who ensured the National Football League final was played in Cork a few years back so that more money could be pumped into Páirc Uí Caucescu, that crumbling monument to Rebel ego by the banks of the Lee.

I also have no doubt that if Linfield were to propose paying the Cork County Board sufficient readies to play in that aforementioned dump, Frank Murphy would suddenly wax lyrical about the need for reconciliation, how we have to be pragmatic and sure aren’t the Loyalists of Windsor Park really Irishmen, they just don’t know it yet.

I’m probably being unfair on Frank Murphy. My own county also spoke out against change with Pat Fanning making the bewildering comment that we must “hold fast to the past”, whatever that means. The Waterford County Board has a spectacular ability to fail to gauge the pulse of the nation. In 1996, they voted overwhelmingly against the back door system. Two years later they were doing the exact opposite, although at least they were honest enough to admit to the change in heart being completely self-serving.

And a lot of hogwash has been said about the undemocratic nature of the decision. Okay, it was undemocratic. But a free and open discussion took place, and everyone accepted the result. Even Frank Murphy. Compare and contrast the cloak-and-dagger deals done in Merrion Square with regards their ill-fated Eircom Park. When the FAI’s own Treasurer couldn’t get access to the books, you knew something was wrong.

When Pat O’Connor called time on the 1998 All-Ireland semi-final after only twenty seven seconds of injury time, he was prostrating himself at the altar of tradition. Waterford had their one chance and they didn’t take it so hard cheese. It’s not a conscious thing, but you can be sure that if the situation had been reversed the sheer enormity of the achievement would have been too much and the ref would have carried on for as long as was acceptable. When John Bannon let Kerry back into last year’s football semi-final against Armagh, he was succumbing to this habit of refusing to give the weaker county a break because it might upset tradition.

And for all the dismay at the decision, it really only delays the inevitable. Grassroots support (what an awful term; always reminds me of the Tories in England) is overwhelmingly in favour of change and delegates will be sent to Congress next year with explicit instructions to vote for change. The only question at this stage is how to accommodate interested parties and whom we should accommodate. Interesting times lie ahead.

Build It, They Will Come

It seems hard to credit that only a few weeks ago, the status and future of Croke Park was making front page news. It was all Al Gore’s fault. Had he challenged the US Supreme Court’s decision to award the presidency to the losing candidate (not that I’m bitter) then America might have descended into anarchy and sport would have been relegated to the back page where it belongs.As things turned out, the hacks had nothing better to do with their day than turn on the GAA. Animosity towards the country’s largest sporting organisation is a phenomenon worthy of separate investigation, and I intend to return to it at a later date. But one curious facet of that disgust towards the GAA is attitudes towards Croke Park. Ever since the government awarded £20 million of Lotto money – not taxpayer’s money – towards the construction of the new ground, it’s been open season on the Grab All Association.

“What about spending the money on local facilities?” snivelled the scribblers who would get claustrophobic at a League of Ireland match. “What about the ban on members of the British Army and the RUC?” Fine, the Irish government should base its grant money to sporting groups on the amount of squaddies in the membership. “What about the crumbling health service?” It’s funny how that with a budgetary surplus running into ten figures, only that £20 million matters. “What about soccer and rugby?” What about them? The IRFU can afford their own ground, and the FAI wouldn’t lower themselves to use a culchies stadium.

The GAA haven’t exactly been clever in defending their position though. For a start, they should have told the cribbers to get stuffed, that the £20 million was a drop in the bucket compared to the tax revenue the Exchequer would make from expenditure on the stadium. Instead they opted to say nothing so as not to draw attention to their embarrassment. Then when the fuss reached a crescendo, they should have given the money back and told the moaners to save the world with the money.

But perhaps the most annoying element of the whole affair came in recent months, when Stadium Ireland (a.k.a. the Bertie Bowl) began to look increasingly like a realistic prospect. Suddenly the sound of cash registers became deafening. Peter Quinn set the ball rolling by announcing that the GAA fraternity was amenable to the thought of rugby being played in Croker. Soccer, a nakedly partitionist sport, would still be off limits, but the rugger buggers were more than welcome. You could almost see the dollar signs in his eyes as he eyed the IRFU’s massive pile of cash. Not long after, the current President, Sean McCague, added his voice to the growing chorus to at least let rugby be played at Croke Park.

You could argue the rights and wrongs of continuing to exclude soccer (and we might on another occasion) but why this mad scramble to open the gates to the barbarians? I’ve always been open to the idea of playing ‘foreign sports’ in Croker, but I’ve also gotten a kick out of ill-informed bullsh*t artists lambasting the GAA for not allowing soccer be played there – as if the GAA is obliged to assist anyone other than itself. But the Gaah as an organisation has never demonstrated itself to be interested. Until now, that is.

So why the big change of heart? The answer, as always, is money. The GAA had budgeted for not having a single ‘foreign sport’ fixture in the new ground. But this assumed that the IRFU and the FAI would maintain their cosy little arrangement in the World’s Oldest International Rugby GroundTM, with it’s breathtaking 33,000 capacity for major soccer matches. Now, the prospect of rugby and soccer matching the 80,000 capacity of Croke Park in the Abbotstown white elephant has the bean counter in Headquarters in a tizzy. Those ingrates might make as much money from big matches as we do! We’ve got to get our hands on some of the filthy lucre!

Now we’re being told that the only feasible way for Croke Park top to pay for itself is to permit big rugby matches to be played there. The idleness of the ground for five (six? seven? the figure changes according to the direction the wind blows) months of the year is now going to cripple the GAA. Attitudes sure have changed in a few short months.

And again, you have to ask yourself: why? Surely the ground’s construction was predicated on not having any sports other than Gaelic games played there. If you ask me, administrators are using the relative loss of funds in comparison to other sports as an excuse to drive through changes that the rank and file view with suspicion. Anyone who disagrees is told that the extra euros will be used for promotion and development of the games. Yeah, right.

I can’t help but feel that the desire for extra money is a way of storing up money for a future professionalisation of the games. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but this drive to maximise revenue looks to have pushed everything else into the background. Only time will tell.