Kildare playing Antrim in the championship would normally be a fairly unremarkable thing. A few years ago, that wasn’t the case, and it had nothing to do with who won or lost. Hours before throw in, the late, great Lt Gen Dermot Earley was laid to rest. That his son Dermot lined out that Saturday evening probably surprised some.
It shouldn’t have. For, not only was it what Dermot Snr would’ve wanted, it’s what he would have expected. On the few occasions I had the pleasure and honour of being in his company – and many other occasions – the Roscommon native emphasised the importance of and honour of representation. Regardless of what level it’s at. His family have certainly stayed true to that belief.
Those so keen to sound the death knell for the International Rules Series would do well to do likewise. The unfortunate thing is that such principle as espoused by the Earley family and a very large degree of poignancy may be some of the few assets left in the hybrid corner as the vultures circle.
If things were right, they should be two very strong safety nets to have at your disposal. Simply because there is surely no greater honour than representing your nation – regardless of the sporting code or level. Secondly, the poignancy attached to the fact that the trophy for the IRS is named after the late Cormac McAnallen shouldn’t be lost sight of either. Nor should Paul Earley – brother of the late Dermot – being Irish manager at this time.
The loss of the hybrid game – if it sadly does turn out to be so – will be particularly lamented in Meath. Owing to the fact that the county has always been intrinsically linked to the relationship between the GAA and the Australians. Dating back to Peter McDermott taking the then All Ireland champions ‘down under’ in 1968.
Ties run much deeper than that even. Remember, it was a motion from veteran St Colmcille’s official Pat O’Neill that instigated the mixed code games nearly 30 years ago. Furthermore, Colm O’Rourke and Sean Boylan have successfully managed Ireland to victory. Meath players have been among the greatest exponents of the international game as well. Paddy O’Rourke upheld that tradition in the most recent incarnation.
Strip away the romance and yes, there are problems. On both sides, and mostly to do with approach. For their part, the team the Australians sent this was a farce. The GAA don’t emerge blameless either – surely there’s more they could have done vis a vis getting a more widely recognisable flagship sponsor.
With respect to those currently backing the Series, they won’t draw in a very big audience. Broadcasting the games in Irish only cuts down possible catchment targets as well. Why not try something along the lines of what TV3 do with the Minor championship – whereby Irish and English commentaries are made available.
It was reported at some point during this year’s series that talks with a view to extending the link. Sources said the talks were “Productive”. If that’s genuinely the case, you’d hope it was a prerequisite on the GAA side that their opponents field with a better standard of players. What happened this season was the equivalent of us sending a mixture of an U-21 side and a team of veterans. If that did happen, it would be equally lopsided in favour of the Australians.
Moves should be at least tried to encourage them to field their version of our All Stars in the matches. Knockers of the concept will constantly harp on about the lack of interest therein. It matters a hell of a lot to the players and to many other people besides. Whether that interest extends to those in the higher echelons of the GAA is unfortunately highly questionable.
That being the case, those in positions of power need to have a serious look at themselves. Mind you, the record for rejuvenating ailing competitions wouldn’t be great. The Railway Cup – as it once was – has been more or less, shamefully, binned. So too the Tommy Murphy Cup.
Go back to the terms used at the beginning of this column – principle and poignancy. Just because a competition may be floundering a bit should be no justifiable reason to dispense with it. Indeed, when it suits, it isn’t. Albert Einstein wouldn’t be required to decipher that the provincial championships – particularly in Connacht and Munster – have become defunct in all but name.
Yet – akin to the league in hurling it must be said – several ham-fisted reconstructions have been undertaken when culling the current system and restarting with a league based system – in whatever format suits – looks the obvious way to go. Those in power are quite happy to continuously tinker what some things to keep them going – the International Rules should be no different.
If for no other reason than honour. Naming a trophy in someone’s honour is surely the greatest tribute the GAA or any other sport can bestow upon a departed member. The one named after the late Tommy Murphy has already more or less disappeared. A similar fate cannot be allowed befall the Cormac McAnallen Cup.