Outside of the agriculture sector, awareness that Ireland is currently home to two World Champions in competition ploughing is probably minimal at best. Likewise, prior to their landmark victory over England some years ago, only a devout aficionado would most likely know of the class of Kevin O’Brien and the assent of fortune he has spearheaded for his colleagues and, as a consequence, all of Irish cricket.
Having to affix such a narrative to a GAA related matter is one frontier the crossing of which never would have been envisioned. Such possibilities are significantly magnified, however, when placed against the background of regrettable apathy towards the International Rules Series.
The point was made some months ago that – outside of players involved and the inner sanctum of the team management – very few were probably aware that Paul Earley’s side based a large segment of their preparations for the – unfortunately ultimately fruitless – joust with Australia in Perth at Donaghmore/Ashbourne GAA Club.
I have always been an unashamed fan of the hybrid game. And will forever be so. For many reasons. Firstly, owing to the intrinsic link that exists between Meath and the concept. Firstly owing to the Meath team touring Down Under in 1968. Then, it was a motion from legendary St Colmcille’s official Pat O’Neill that enabled the formal planting of seeds for the links between the two codes which have endured ever since.
More fundamentally than that, though, some of our players have been among the finest exponents of the compromise game while two Meath men, Colm O’Rourke and Sean Boylan rank as the most successful Irish managers in the history of the matches between the two countries.
Now, those against the IRS tend to fabricate a multiplicity of reasons as to why it should be dispensed with. From the fanciful notion that it is yet another impediment to the completion of club fixtures – which conveniently ignores the inefficiencies of county committees regarding said matter – to the misguided assertion that GAA is not an international sport.
Not only does such a stance disregard the growing multicultural nature of the Association’s playing pool here at home, it also neglects to acknowledge cognisance of the fact that Irish diasporas all over the globe have set up clubs actively promoting our games and all that goes along with them wherever they may be. Thereby not only providing an invaluable link to home for our people abroad, but also opening up a whole new global audience for the organisation.
The role of the GPA has been subjected to much scrutiny of late. It has, undoubtedly, been of assistance to players in areas such as mental health and getting themselves set up for the next stages of their lives when playing days are concluded. O’Rourke’s assessment of the group was unquestionably of the wild and whirling variety, but, it cannot be denied that many of the points made weren’t without merit either. For it is indeed difficult to discern what benefit they discharge to club players.
However, what’s certain is that one positive development which can be attributed to the GPA is that players now at least have a voice. It would appear that things may be moving in a direction which now sees players having at least some input in fixture planning. Only right, as they are, after all, the most important people in the GAA.
Whether the following is down to the GPA or not cannot be ascertained, but, it now appears – in relation to the IRS – that those in power are belatedly listening to the views of those who matter most, the players. Representing your country is the highest honour possible for anybody, in sport or otherwise.
Be it ploughing or pigeon racing, fishing or fencing, rallying or rugby, representing your country matters. GAA players are no different to any individual or group in that regard. Therefore, any move or even notion to remove the matches against Australia would deny them that opportunity.
One need only realise the lengths players like Monaghan’s Conor McManus went to in order to play for Ireland to know much it means to lads. There’s more to it though. The trophy for the games is, of course, the Cormac McAnallen Cup. Culling the competition would be a dereliction of duty in preserving the memory of the great Tyrone man. As has wrongly been allowed happen to the Tommy Murphy Cup.
Granted, the lopsided nature of the contests in Ireland’s favour has seen public interest dissipate. And maybe that of the Australians as well. Such circumstances weren’t aided, mind you, by their decision to select an indigenous squad who were overwhelmed by Earley’s Ireland.
Most recently, the hosts fielded their equivalent of the All Stars. Thus enabling them to be far more competitive and in fact outplay our lads as their employment of the basic skills of Gaelic football was disappointingly inefficient. It probably stands to reason that an Australian win was vital to the preservation of the Series.
Perhaps most significant, though, was that some 43,000 turned out to see what was a close, competitive entertaining game. So much that it obviously enlightened those who matter as to what the whole thing means to people. Prompting them to – in the short term at least – secure the future of the Series. Common sense has prevailed, for now.