I received a call on Monday evening from a GAA colleague in another county informing me that their county football secretary had just decided not to run for re-election at the forthcoming convention. It appears the secretary in question heard there was a mini coup in the making and decided enough was enough, so he declared his intention not to seek re-election. I happen to know the secretary in question and he has served his county well over the last number of years, working his way up through the lower ranks within the hierarchical system that is the GAA executive to eventually become county secretary, a position that carries a little clout on the local scene at least! He was, I know, a little hurt that he wasn’t allowed a more dignified exit. The least he would have expected was a departure on his terms, having sold his soul to the county board over the last number of years.
One of my favourite GAA stories concerns the tale of a county board delegate who braves a terrible night of wind and rain to cycle a long journey to a meeting. When the man reaches his destination, he is soaked through, freezing cold and in shock from his exposure to the elements. His fellow Gaels decide the best way to relieve the discomfort of their comrade is to place him in the oven of a nearby bakery! The delegate remains there till he is warm and dry at which time the meeting begins. At the conclusion of business our delegate gets back up on the bike and heads out into the dreadful night a second time for another drenching.
Thank God the days when officials had to cycle to meetings are long gone but this story still strikes a chord with anyone who knows the GAA for a long time. The dedication of its local officials is legend. It is these people we in the GAA owe a great deal of thanks to. More than anything else they were, and still are, the ones who oil the wheels of this great organisation of ours. And yet few figures in our new modern world are as derided and challenged as often as the rank and file club or county board official. These officials are, invariably, the people who are on the receiving end of verbal assaults if, and when, any dispute arises within their respective counties. However, without their guidance, knowledge, experience and know-how, there would be no GAA. These volunteers sacrifice much by putting in enormous hours of work just to ensure that the game can continue to be played. They do it, not for financial reward or the few tickets they might get to attend games in Croke Park, but for the sheer love of it. They do it also to ensure that the youngsters of today are afforded the opportunity to participate in something that is inherently good. They do it to keep kids off the street so that they might grow up all the better for having experienced values that are strong. And you know what? These people who foster our association rarely get a nod of appreciation for their volunteer effort. That is why I felt a little sorry for the county secretary that was forced to walk away this week. This is a man who has dedicated a huge chunk of his life to the GAA and the very notion that there would be an orchestrated conspiracy to have him shifted is indeed cruel and unbecoming. I called him later that evening to say my tuppence worth and I could feel his torment over the phone. He held no bitterness towards anyone but instead talked excitedly about underage footballers who might make it to the top. We owe these people an enormous amount of gratitude because, in the main, they are good people.
Why you shouldn’t sign your name to some things
I heard another interesting little story this time arising from one of the inter-provincial club fixtures last weekend. As is the norm, managers of teams are always anxious to get the inside line on the opposition. It is not uncommon to dispatch a mole to carry out a covert mission to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. Indeed I stand guilty myself of organising this type of mission in the past, with my man often sent into opposition territory in disguise to take notes on various aspects of their style of play! Anyway, a particular club made contact with an insider from its’ opposing camp prior to last Sunday’s game to see if they could extract some snippets of information. It appears that, not only did he verbalise the information acquired on his former teammates to the “enemy”, he even put pen to paper so there would be no misinterpretation of his detail. After the game was played, a certain player recognised the handwriting on a very lengthy and descriptive foolscap page of notes lying on the dressing room floor. The fool had also signed his name on the bottom to give it even greater credence. I will leave it to your own imagination as to how embarrassing things got for this poor innocent!
Policing the issue of group training
One of the major issues debated at length this past year was player “burnout”. Burnout, in this context, is defined as the reduced or complete withdrawal from participation in Gaelic games as a result of the psychological and physical demands associated with excessive training and/or number of games. This issue was targeted by the association as being of primary importance, as talented young adult players were being exposed to excessive and inappropriate schedules of training and games. Many of our younger players were developing overuse injuries and, in fairness, the task force appointed to tackle the issue highlighted several examples of players with acute traumatic injuries. It was decided as a recommendation that the GAA would introduce a closed season into its calendar. No inter-county training is allowed now during the months of November and December. I welcomed this recommendation but was never too sure who would police it. I believe there is still a lot of inter-county activity taking place around the country albeit with smaller groups, thus defeating the purpose of the recommendation that some down time was essential, particularly for younger players.
Keeping up the pace after winning the county championship
I wasn’t shocked to see Ballaghaderreen beaten at the weekend. There is no doubt that they are a talented team, but I am always a little hesitant about a team that wins its first county championship in years. The excitement that is generated can be difficult to contain and I suspect a lot of the players might have slipped into their comfort zones having won their first county title. Pearce Hanley, whilst not playing exceptionally well in the latter stages of the senior championship, would have brought a presence, had he been there, that was obviously missed last weekend. It’s a pity they were beaten because I thought that they had the players to go further in the club championship.