In the days following Ireland’s perhaps unlikely qualification for the European Championships in France next summer, a photo emerged of a prominent Gaelic footballer taking in the momentous occasion. So what, I hear you say. Well now read on…
For one thing, at the time former Dunboyne and Meath great Jim Reilly passed away, a conversation came up regarding an occasion during the time when he was at the height of his playing career when an excursion was undertaken to a soccer match. In fact, several were at the time, but the one which continually recurs in conversation revolves around the occasion Sir Stanley Matthews was in town.
You must be mindful of the fact that in those days anything to do with ‘foreign’ games was utterly frowned upon and anyone brave enough to even contemplate engaging in such practises ran the risk of having the full gauntlet of the powers that be thrown at them.
Still, giving in to the lure of seeing some of the best in the world at a particular discipline do their thing is totally understandable. Which readily explains the presence of the GAA player at the wonderful occasion on Lansdowne Road, on a winter’s day. However, it may well have stoked feelings regarding the opportunities for players of our native codes to don the national colours also!
Of course, in the GAA’s fifth limb as it were, Handball, the opportunity has been there for as long as can be recalled and in recent years Cavan’s Paul Brady in particular has represented the Association and by extension the country with distinction. Amassing numerous world titles along the way.
Yet, for exponents of the organisation’s on-field crafts, no such opportunity existed until the creation of hybrid games against Australia for our footballers while jousts with Scotland were the reward for hurlers selected to participate at international level. Without harrowing over old ground, the concept of these games clearly aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but what’s equally manifest is the players interest and pride in representing their people.
My feelings on the topic are well known, both in terms of affording our players such opportunities and – more importantly – honouring the great man in whose honour the trophy for the football encounter is named. In a situation where it has become a battle to save these fixtures, mind you, what’s perhaps most important is that the public interest therein seems to have perked up again too. As evidenced by the fact that some 38,386 patrons attended the Hurling/Shinty and the Cormac McAnallen Cup encounter.
Detractors will doubtless jump at the fact that Croke Park was thus nowhere near being full and that it wasn’t even as big an attendance as in Australia last season. However, those in attendance certainly got value for money – from both matches – and, with due respect to TG4, RTE covering them added to their status also and may even have planted some intrigue in those tuned in at home. Maybe even enough to put posteriors on seats. And, with that in mind, a lively, competitive game like that which transpired will do no end of good in terms of maintaining the long term viability of the concept. Mind you, to that end, it was very encouraging to note that both sides were talking in tones alluding to the long term future of the outings. Most encouraging from the sound bites emanating was the idea of taking such an occasion to New York. Particularly given the number of Irish located thence. For all that, I would whole heartedly concur with Matt Connor’s assertion that those in a position to do so should return to the three Test format which held sway in the 1980s.
Anyway, looking at the action that transpired most recently, it was great to see Meath players doing the State some service again. In this instance, that being in the Shinty as the Longwood duo of Mickey Burke and Damien Healy along with Trim’s James Toher performed admirably as the home team overturned an earlier heavy defeat in Inverness to topple Scotland after a late scoring flourish.
Now, the Meath connection with the hybrid football game is well known at this stage. But, in playing their part in the Shinty, the Meath lads ensured the upkeep of an equally strong tradition in that sphere, which includes Dunboyne’s Paul Gannon being on international duty some years back.
Incidentally, it’s worth yet again noting how much the opportunity to represent their country means to players. As best underlined by decorated stars of our games taking part and illuminating a great nights action. Maybe even more special was seeing lads from counties which – for whatever reason – don’t attain the profile of others.
This time around, Gary Brennan being the standout such performer. It’s reassuring and only right that it appears others will have similar opportunities going forward.