Fine Gael MEP and former GAA President, Sean Kelly, explained to the European parliament on Wednesday how the GAA works, bringing admiring responses from delegates and sparking an intriguing debate.
The purpose of the hearing was to explore the best ways to strengthen community ties and to encourage volunteerism in the European community.
As is invariably the case with outsiders, the parliamentarians were deeply interested in the way we work. The reason for this is that the GAA - with the notable exception of the GPA - stands against the near universal capitalist norm, with it’s ‘What’s in it for me?’ ethos.
As Sean said in answer to one question,’Basically the GAA is where it is through the selfless dedication of club members and volunteers.’
Reading the newspapers’ coverage of the hearing, I thought of my comings and goings last weekend.
On Friday night, Kilcoo formally opened their new pitch and development with a game between their seniors and an Ulster Select. When I asked Conor Laverty for directions, he said ‘you won’t miss us Joe.’
Driving (late) through the middle of nowhere in the foothills of the Mournes, all of a sudden there was an aurora borealis in the night sky. The floodlights guided me in.
The commemorative booklets on the changing room benches bore the line: ‘Ask not what your club can do for you, but what you can do for your club.’ Kilcoo people don’t pay lip service to that ideal. The new place is simply magnificent. Better still was the friendship and welcome given by the Kilcoo GAA folk.
The turnout would also have impressed The MEPs. Benny Coulter, Martin Clarke, Jamie Clarke, the list was endless.
Martin disappointed me. I promised during the warm up I would set him up to lob the keeper. I even gave him a few pointers. Ten minutes in, I put it on a plate for him. The boy panicked, scooping it tamely into the stranded keeper’s hands. He has much to learn.
In fairness, he went some way towards redeeming himself just before half-time. In a packed square, he took possession and as the Kilcoo defenders shouted ‘left foot’ in unison, he swivelled onto his right and with the instep, swerved the ball delicately inside the left post. It was a thing of beauty.
Walking off at half-time. I said to him: “I didn’t know you had a right foot?”
“I don’t,” he answered and winked.
Jamie Clarke warmed up by nonchalantly lofting shots over the bar with his left foot from the left side as his Armagh team-mate, Ciaran McKeever, looked on enviously. Sadly, Ciaran will never hear that beautiful sound of leather striking the sweet spot from his own feet.
Another Cross star - Johnny Hanratty - spent the game giving suicide passes to Mickey Linden. I eventually asked him did he not think Francie Bellew had done enough damage to the Down man, leaving him with a set of teeth like the Ultrabrite man.
“I’d like to speak to my solicitor before answering that one.” A young man wise beyond his years!
St. John’s Excellent
On Saturday night I was at the St John’s club in the Whiterock to judge their fight night along with Martin Rogan and Martin Lindsay.
Aaron Douglas, full back for club and county, was the driving force behind the night. Like Conor Laverty, the Kilcoo and Down corner forward, who is one of the stalwarts of Kilcoo’s great work, the county player considers himself no better than the rest. Rather, these boys give even more of their time.
The fight night was great fun. My past life flashed before my eyes when Andy ‘The Wee Crab’ McGowan came out for the first fight. His father ‘Big Crab’ was the only man I ever knocked out in Owenbeg years ago during a friendly against Antrim.
After he had held me in a vice for 10 minutes, I struck him in full view of the referee, Dungiven’s Owenie O’Neill. He came off my glove like Squire Danaher in the ‘Quiet Man.’ As he lay on the turf Owenie bent over him and uttered the immortal words: ‘ You deserved that you dirty b.........d!’
The weekend was rounded off in time honoured GAA fashion. On Sunday, I drove to Dungiven to watch the seniors play their first league game of the season against Greenlough. Looking forward to seeing the magpies making Greenlough wish they had never been promoted, my hopes were crushed when I arrived at a deserted O’Cahan Park.
“What happened?” I asked Gerry Loughrey.
“Greenlough got it called off. One of their players was getting married yesterday.”
That’s one tradition the Europeans should not embrace . . . .