Switch on your television this summer and if you tune into the RTÉ News any week there is championship action and you are sure to be see the face or hear the voice of a Mayo man. Last year Kilmaine native Jonathan Mullin was appointed RTÉ News first ever GAA correspondent, and he took some time out to speak about his love for the games and where he sees the association going forward in the next few years.
While a lot of sports journalists might be failed players who are trying to make up for their lack of ability on the field with the pen, the next best thing to actually being out there, Jonathan is bit different. He knew his way enough around the park to pick up a Connacht minor medal in 1996 with Mayo and was the joint manager of the Mayo ladies’ senior team from 1998 to 2001, the start of a glorious period for ladies’ football in the county when Mayo won four All-Ireland titles in five years, the first two coming under Mullin’s watch in 1999 and the second the following year.
While the inter-county scene may be where all the glory is, the club is still the heartbeat of the game according to Jonathan, something that will live with you till the day you die. “I suppose it’s only when you move away from home that you do realise how important that the club is to you. They are the lads you grew up playing with and gave you the love of the game. When you’re not a home, you are always trying to check out the results to see how they got on and hear how the game went. You do miss it. You’ll always have the passion for your club, it’s your place, and you’ll have that till the day you die.”
While every village and town in the country is dotted with clubs of varying size and success from the smallest Junior B side to the most successful senior side who contest All Ireland finals, it’s the people who put in the work over the years to keep the games going that has got the GAA to its 125th birthday and will keep it going on further, according to Mullin.
“The club is a very important thing, it’s fundamental to the success of the games. The club ties communities together and gives them a sense of identity. It’s also where everyone who ever kicked a ball or swung a hurl got their love for the games. There are small clubs around the country where thousands of people put in hours of work every week to keep them going and they are the real GAA people who keep everything moving on, they are the bedrock of the success of the association.”
Being the face of GAA for RTÉ is a glamorous job, but it also comes with its costs in relation to actually getting out on the field and playing, something that Mullin admits he does miss. “I definitely miss playing, I haven’t played football since 2003, so I don’t know if I’d be much use or if they’d want me. But it’s a sacrifice you have to make for your career, as any sports journalist in the country will tell you. You are working when the games are on.”
Where to in the
future for the GAA
With the GAA celebrating 125 years, and the profile of the games growing dramatically over the past 20 years, what now for the future of the association? Mullin has some ideas that he hopes to see happen and see the association grow even more over the next 125 years. “There are a number of places that the GAA can go from now on, there is a whole global market out there to catch. While the GAA is doubtful to ever become a major sport and overtake the likes of soccer in other countries, it is in the position to make itself a very strong minority sport in other countries. You only have to look at last year’s European games, where there were 90 teams taking part, we have the international rules but that’s not really the same thing as seeing the games grow in their own right on an international scene.”
As Mullin said earlier, the club is the bedrock of the association, but there are differing issues in different areas that have to be looked at to make sure the clubs remain that bedrock.
“There is a whole large issue of urbanisation in the past decade or so, where there are now towns and villages that have had an influx of thousands of people and thousands of children. Clubs can be struggling to cope in providing adequate coaching and playing time for the next generation of children due to the sheer size of the influx of numbers.
“Work has to be done to ensure that they are catered for in the games and keep playing, rather than losing them to other sports. And we also have the other end of the spectrum in more rural counties, the where depopulation of rural areas is leading to clubs struggling to survive. I know Séan Feeney (Mayo county secretary ) thinks this is a major issue and is working to counteract it.”
From manager to interviewer
Waiting to interview the winners and losers of an All-Ireland final may be part of the Kilmaine man’s job, but he also knows the feeling of being on the end of a winning and losing result in an All-Ireland final, thanks to his time on the sideline with the Mayo ladies.
Those couple of years were good times he remembers fondly. “They were great times, we had a great bunch of girls who gave their all every day on the training field and every match they played which they were rewarded for. It was something that I was extremely proud to have been involved in and will always remember.”