What Time Is The All Ireland Football Final On The Greatest Sporting Organization in Ireland is the GAA

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The Greatest Sporting Organization in Ireland is the GAA

As I write, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is about to complete its 125th anniversary. 2009 saw many celebrations of this milestone with thousands of clubs across Ireland celebrating in their own unique way.

The GAA organization and its games are truly unique in the world of sport. No other country in the world has the range of games played by amateur men and women to a very high level of fitness and an enormous degree of skill that attract huge audiences in Ireland, yet remain virtually unknown in any country around the world. With the exception of ex-foreigners organizing the games in the US, UK and Australia, the mainstream media around the world ignores these wonderful games. And boy, what are they missing!

For those who may not know about Ireland’s national games, a brief introduction is in order. Gaelic games are basically divided into football, hurling, camogie (effective hurling for women), women’s football and handball (similar to squash without the racket). The first two listed are the main games played by men.

At the heart of the whole GAA system is the parish club and amateur ethos. There are over 2,500 clubs in 32 counties of Ireland. No player in any sport is paid, and only at the highest administrative level do full-time officials receive salaries and expenses.

The volunteer aspect of the organization is amazing. Mentors and officials at club and county level are working passionately to ensure the games continue through the generations as other sports compete to attract the kids who will create the future. For a sport confined to the island of Ireland, the allure and sheer power it possesses is a phenomenon not seen anywhere else in the sporting world.

The amateur aspect is also the key to his success. Gaelic sporting heroes are tangible, ordinary men and women who perform heroics on the field, watched by thousands and a much larger TV audience. Still, they have work to do on Monday, whether it’s a construction site, an accounting practice, a teaching job, or college. These young men and women are sensitive, sensitive people you’d meet down the pub over a drink, mostly ignored by their local peers but mega stars in the national media. They live an ordinary life with their feet firmly on the ground. There is little room for posers in GAA changing rooms and the down-to-earth attitudes of most players, famous or not, are instilled in them from a young age.

As a huge force for good in any community, whether it is a small village or a large city, it is impossible to calculate the huge cultural and personal benefits that arise from the presence of a GAA club.

At a higher level, the success of the game has allowed the GAA and Ireland to have one of the largest stadiums in the world – namely Croke Park, on the north side of Dublin. This stadium has a long history, but for the upper echelon of the GAA to virtually demolish it in stages, while maintaining the league fixtures and to have it completely rebuilt by 2005 with a capacity of 82,000, was a huge feat for the amateur organisation. There is not just Croke Park but many fantastic stadiums across the country such as Semple stronghold in Thurles, Pairc O Caoimbh in Cork and Clones in Monaghan to name but a few.

It says a lot about the quality of the people running the organization when you see the mess their colleagues in the FAI have made of football locally and nationally, despite the great years of the 80s and 90s when football’s profile was so high with the success that Jack Charlton brought to the team and the country. The incompetent imbeciles who parade themselves as professional administrators at the FAI could take a lesson from what the football brigade mocks as the Grab It All Association.

It should be more accurately described as the Give Away Association when funds are seen to filter down to ground level, creating high standard facilities in every small village and town, while the football clubs are still stacking up behind the ditches and the national team homeless!

A somewhat archaic system of administration where the existence of district boards, provincial councils and the Central Council level of governance is often criticized for not being able to resolve issues quickly. There is more than a degree of truth in this, and it has often led to a deadlock in trying to make important decisions. None more so than the thorny and controversial decision to open up Croke Park to facilitate the playing of football and rugby, games once foreign to GAA culture due to the British occupation of Ireland at the time of the Association’s founding in 1884.

This mindset was reinforced by the memory of the barbaric act of British forces in 1921 when they entered Croke Park in armored cars and opened fire on spectators and players without warning. Thirteen people were killed on that day of infamy, including one player, Michael Hogan, after whom the Hogan Stand is now named.

After that, members of the British forces were not allowed to be members of the GAA. As the country evolved into what it is now, the 26-county Republic of Ireland and the separate British-administered 6-county province of Ulster, the ban applied to members of the then RUC (now PSNI) until recent years.

The most controversial aspect of the GAA rules carried over from the 1920s was what was known as the “ban”. This rule prevented Gaelic players from taking part in so-called “foreign games”, meaning football and rugby. These two games were considered to be British games and therefore foreign to Irish culture. It was the most ridiculous rule ever invented by the GAA and was broken so many times, with so many different methods, that public opinion forced the organization to revoke the rule in 1972.

That the rule has lasted so long is not something the GAA should be proud of.

So the controversy surrounding the opening of Croke Park to football and rugby is rooted in events many years ago. It took three years for the proposal to be approved for this to happen, and it turns out that history can be a big drag on progress.

However, one of this writer’s great memories was watching Ireland beat England in the 2006 Rugby Six Nations Championship in an overflowing and indescribable cauldron of emotion and pride.

Long may these wonderful, unique games be with us to enjoy and as 2010 brings the GAA’s 126th year of existence, may the volunteer aspect always remain!

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