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Thu 17-Feb-2005 0:42
More from this writer..
"Morons and Racist Bigots"
So says a text read out by Eamon Dunphy on his morning show on the 16th of February. The morning the nation was trying to interpret Seán Kelly's smile. Texts add a curious tone to talk radio. One read out at a sensitive time can taint the mood of an entire show. Such as the one above. It wasn't clear though who the target of the attack was. The Motions Committee? Delegates to Congress? The entire membership of the GAA? Soon such specifics won't matter as was evident from Dunphy's own shift in emphasis.
In under three minutes in an interview with Eugene McGee, Dunphy had moved from a position where it was essentially a matter of democracy and freedom of debate, where he stated that as a great admirer of the GAA he fully respected their right to allow whomsoever they choose onto their property - once it had been fully debated, to the point where at the end of the piece he expressed the view that the GAA will disgrace itself if the Irish soccer team have to play an international at Anfield.
McGee's contribution was his usual tilt at the conservative windmill. He expressed the view that Kelly had upset the ex-presidents on the motions committee by being open, progressive, by speaking his mind, by doing the things that young people like. The ex-presidents don't go in for this sort of thing, apparently. Odd that McGee should know these things and even odder that as a man in his sixties he might be privy to what younger people think. Oddest of all is the notion that Kelly might hold some kind of appeal to young people.
An alternative view might be that Kelly offended the ex-presidents by completely redefining the role of the President, by shifting the role from a McAleese type titular head to a Bush like head of the executive, taking a nakedly partisan position on policy and actively driving that policy forward. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of rule 42, Kelly has actually created the GAA's first constitutional crisis and it may be that his only long term legacy will be a very important discussion on the limits of the President's authority.
The point is more than symbolic. The President plays a vital role at Congress. It is naïve to expect (in the same way with Supreme Court judges) that a President wouldn't hold a view one way or the other on a particular motion. But in the interests of fairness and of justice being seen to be done, it is vital that those in a judicial role or quasi-judicial role - such as the President at Congress with his power to include or exclude motions on the day and decide on whether a motion requires a simple or a weighted majority - keep their opinions to themselves.
Kelly's very public stance inspires no great confidence that he will be the impartial arbiter that the occasion demands.
In musing on this point too, it struck me that the jurassic shifts in GAA policy have all been presided over by purported hardliners, rather than liberal presidents. So while Sean McCague could preside over the abolition of Rule 21 and Padraig Ó FainÍn could preside over the abolition of the ban ( in the most celebrated instance of GAA statemanship ),Joe McDonagh and Sean Kelly toil over the amendment or deletion of Rule 42. It's one of life's great paradoxes but history always reveals that the best agents of change are conservatives. John Major was on hand for the IRA ceasefire, Sharon has overseen two ceasefies and so on. At crucial times, the instinct is to trust those most opposed to change to deliver that change.
There is the danger that for all the goodwill that he engenders amongst the media, Kelly risks having his presidency remembered as a disaster for the association. Not so much because of Rule 42, because that will play itself out to it's inevitable conclusion anyway, but because of the other rule changes that have recently been trialled. Particularly for hurling.
The latest rule changes - particularly the yellow card/sin bin, follow in a recent line of rule changes which have had a democratising effect on football, but because of it's vastly different dynamic - a core block of three counties surrounded by satellite counties - have had the opposite effect on hurling. It may be chance but the arrival of the back door, coupled with the five subs rule have coincided (not perfectly I grant you) with the big three winning the last six All Irelands, their longest period of dominance since the mid 50s. Certainly the five subs rule favours those counties with a bigger and more even spread of talent. The yellow card/sin bin - which seems to be Kelly's own invention, will only add to this.
If the rule is adopted this year, it would be hard to look past Cork for the All Ireland. Their brand of passive-aggressive hurling rarely draws the censure of men in green and black. Oddly the sanitisation of Tipperary hurling ( a long time project, nearing it's sad conclusion with the demise of Leahy, Shelley, Carroll and Ryan robbing the blue and gold of their old blood and thunder) might be perfectly suited to what would inevitably be a reduced contact sport. In the short term, Kilkenny's recently acquired physical approach wouldn't suit the parqdigm. Men like Barry, Hickey, Walsh, Lyng and Hoyne would struggle to rein in their natural aggressiveness.
Waterford with all of their key men possessed of very short fuses might as well enter the Christy Ring cup. Limerick and Clare would find themselves in the same boat. Galway might just have the players to work the system.
You'd hope if the rule were introduced that gloriously laissez faire referees like Pat O'Connor and Dickie Murphy would continue to find their way around the rules and let the hurling be palyed the way it should be played. You'd hope it wouldn't come to that though.But if the experiment succeeds in the NFL, we may find that the football dog will again wag the hurling tail and hurling will be stuck with a rule it has no necessity for. The game is not dirty, it is not riddled with fouling. It is played out in a very good spirit. But there is no evidence that any of this is being taken account of at the highest levels. If the rule change is made, then it will have universal effect, it seems. And will in my view determine the outcome of the 2005 championship, before a ball is pucked.
Reverting to rule 42 for a moment, a few points should be made.
1. It is no great offence to take a principled stance on any point. No more than to determine an issue surely on the basis of financial benefit. The issue surely should be the greater good of the association. I haven't made up my own mind on this yet. But those who believe that not allowing the FAI a toehold in Croke Park will deliver a blow to that association would do well to consider the recruiting power that a jingoistic migration to Anfield with the attendant media circus will have for the FAI. They'll still be talking about it in 20 years. Bet your last cent that it will be the subject matter of the next generation's "Alone it Stands".
2.Having said the above, absent firm financials, how can the GAA make a reasoned decision based on a likely rent when there notion of what that rent might be. The figures being bandied about might well be beyond the projections of the FAI, leaving them with no option but to go abroad, which brings us back to point 1 anyway.
3. Younger readers who don't understand the mindset (and maybe prejudice) of older GAA officials might care to read Tim Carey's book "the History Of Croke Park", to try and get some sense of what the stadium means to an older generation. Dwell particularly on the eerie photograph of Croke Park, taken the morning after Bloody Sunday. History is important.
4. Conservatism is not a crime. It may be frustrating to some, but conservatism has stood, and continues to stand the GAA, in very good stead. It probably reflects it's own membership very well in this regard.
5. The GAA will always remain outside the Pale for some in Irish socie
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