Team sport stimulates a profound kind of loyalty and friendship, creating a spirit that is difficult to describe.
When old team mates meet, no ice needs to be broken. If a favour is sought, it is granted without fuss.
Bernie Flynn texted me recently to come to a fund-raising night he is organising for Autism in May. For Meath’s Julio Inglesias, there is only one answer.
I have come to see through my footballing journey that in the end, the games are not about the winning. They are about finding inspiration and gaining a deeper insight into the human condition. They are about finding that elusive team spirit that just makes life better. It is why I am still playing.
Last year, a shattered collar-bone and dislocated shoulder. The year before, multiple fractures leaving my left hand with as as much titanium in it as the bionic man’s.
St. Brigid’s, in Belfast, was only founded 10 years ago, in the affluent Malone Road area. In that time, where high middle class fences once made good middle class neighbours, the fences have come down and it has become a closely knit community.
“Tiocfaidh ar la de dah de dah” as the Unionist M.P., Bob McCartney, remarked. When my son got metal clips in a head wound recently and they were left in too long, one of my team-mates on the senior squad came round to the house after his shift at the Royal Victoria Hospital and removed them. No fuss. No fee.
Great Community Spirit
The essence of the GAA is this community spirit. The problem with money is that it quickly attacks the nobler instinct. We see this readily in professional sport, where it is every man for himself.
Look at Fernando Torres or Ashley Cole or any winner of the Tour de France you care to mention. Look at FIFA or the Olympics. Capitalism, as Gordon Gekko famously reflected, is an overwhelming force, appealing to the basest human instinct. “Greed, for want of a better word, is good.”
The Irish citizenry bought in 10 years ago. The government - like governments everywhere - was powerless to limit it. Self interest galloped us to disaster and we loved it. Now comes the inevitable hand wringing and self pity. “How did we get ourselves into this mess?” Isn’t it obvious?
In the South particularly, I have found that - coinciding with the Celtic Tiger – the GAA’s ideals have loosened. The self-pitying language of the GPA finds a resonance.
Money has become an important topic. What better time for the GAA to reinforce the ideals, to remind us of what we have tended to take for granted. We saw it recently after the Tyrone tragedy, in the inimitable way that those GAA people from Ballygawley and Tullylish and every hole in the road where the games are played, pulled together.
Last Tuesday, Tom Walter, the white 42-years-old baseball coach of an obscure American High School team donated his kidney to Kevin Jordan, a young black player who was gravely ill. The operation went well and both are recovering in Emory University Hospital.
“I didn’t ask him” said Kevin when he woke up on Thursday, “Tom just volunteered.”
Walter meanwhile, a father of two children, said: “I would have done the same for any member of the team, past or present. The thought of a kid this age tethered eight hours a day to a dialysis machine is unacceptable. This was the only thing to do.”
An issue has now been raised as to whether the high school has violated the NCAA’s strict “no extra benefit” rule, defined as “ a special arrangement not made available to other students.”
The school president waved this aside, saying “this was a simple act of human compassion, beyond the scope of any rule. We answer to a higher authority on this one.”
There is a spin-off for the team, described by the 19-year-old as he lay in his hospital bed. “I’m definitely going to play hard for coach in future. I can’t say no to him now I’ve got his body part in me,” a remark that provoked great laughter amongst those present.
The Real Question
What is more important for us when we look back on our lives? The fact that the government granted us a few hundred euro a year to buy bottled water? Or the fact that we went on a deeper journey, making real friends and standing ready to help out in a crisis?