To be honest, I think people are a bit quick to have a cut off the GAA. They’re the definition of an easy target. But they don’t half bring it on themselves at times.
The association’s refusal to open up Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a charity soccer match in memory of the late Liam Miller has drawn the ire of people the length and breadth of the country. The GAA have been accused of hiding behind their vague laws when the long and the short of it is they don’t want a soccer game played on one of their pitches.
Countless public figures from all codes have rightly lashed Croke Park for not agreeing to host the game at their new 45,000-seater stadium, instead forcing organisers to use Turner’s Cross which has a capacity of just 7,000. Lest we forget, the money from tickets sold will go to the family of a young man who died of cancer. It now appears as though the GAA will be pressurised into allowing it anyway.
Did the governing body of our national games not foresee the public backlash? It should have been clear from the start that opening the Páirc would have been win-win. Now, even if they do allow it, the damage to their reputation has been done.
When Croke Park was opened up to rugby and soccer in 2007, it seemed as though the association’s old attitudes towards foreign sports were consigned to the history books. Gone were the days of banning its players for playing soccer, or even attending a soccer match. When God Save the Queen was respectfully observed in Croker, it felt like the war was over, and it felt like the war between the GAA and outside games was over too.
As someone with a foot firmly in both football and soccer camps, I would say that the situation has improved over the years and I think there is slightly less disdain for soccer in GAA circles nowadays. You even see soccer teams renting out the GAA’s training facilities, something that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago.
We played a friendly with Killarney Athletic on a GAA club’s all weather pitch last year. There were two soccer teams training before us and it was all very progressive – until we were told that we couldn’t wear our soccer jerseys on the pitch. We had to wear bibs instead. It was all a bit sanctimonious but, look, baby steps.
Football clubs still don’t want their players partaking in soccer but a lot of it is just the fear of losing lads through injury or scheduling conflicts. Generally speaking, the objection isn’t moral anymore.
The men in Croke Park, however, still have a bone to pick. As recently as two weeks ago, they decided to fix the Kerry v Galway game for 4pm on a Sunday – exactly the same time the World Cup final between France and Croatia was taking place in Moscow. This was a real slap in the face for fans of football and soccer. As with the Liam Miller situation, it was a PR disaster for the GAA and it was only exacerbated by comments from a senior official who said that “real fans” would choose the football.
It was like the clock had been turned back 40 years. It’s football or soccer and if you pick soccer, you’re a turncoat.
The frustrating thing for the majority of GAA fans is that they don’t feel that way. They have no issue with the Liam Miller game being played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. So why do the suits in Croke Park – “dinosaurs” as Damien Duff called them – continue to embarrass their members?
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be in favour of completely opening up GAA pitches and sharing them with other sports. I think clubs should be entitled to develop and manage their own grounds and the fact of the matter is that there’s more interest in the GAA (especially in this part of the world), clubs have more members, therefore it makes sense that they attract more investment. The onus should be on other sports to catch up rather than on the GAA to slow down.
But it’s nice to be nice. If a local team, be they rugby or soccer or any sport, needs a place to train for a few weeks in the winter, why not help them out?
And if someone comes along looking to play a memorial match for a young man who died of cancer, for the love of God, open the gates.