For many years there was an opinion among dyed-in-the wool GAA people that a successful soccer or rugby team could have negative consequences for the association. Some people in the GAA had for many years inherited a dislike of soccer and rugby. It was wrongly felt that any advance made by either code would be at the expense of Gaelic games.
It was imagined that soccer and rugby were challenges for the hearts and minds of the young generation, for media coverage, for sponsorship and for the admiration and love of the nation.
Whether it was based on reality or not that sense of threat did exist in many quarters, but no doubt there were an equal number of like minded people in the other sports organisations too.
Jack Charlton and Italia 1990 changed all that.
Jack seemed like a character who thought and spoke more like a Gaelic man than an Englishman. His style of play could be termed traditional Gaelic, “kick the ball and put them under pressure” was very similar to what Kerry great Joe Keohane preached when Kerry were winning All-Irelands for fun in the forties and fifties.
While the style was effective and did get results, it could at times be termed “puke soccer” because Charlton had at his disposal many of the most skilful players ever to wear an Irish jersey.
To his credit, Big Jack - as he was affectionately known - did rally the country behind the Irish soccer team in a way we had never seen before. The team did well, and the country celebrated.
Some GAA people worried, many of them wanted Ireland to win, some wanted them to lose (a sad attitude) simply because they feared a takeover by soccer. I remember in the aftermath of Italia 90 things returned slowly to normal.
The crowds began to flock to GAA matches. Those who were foolish enough to rant and rave during the World Cup began to compare Gaelic games to soccer, and appreciated the Irish team and their manager more than ever before.
I remember Cork won the football and hurling double in 1990, a wonderful achievement. The following year 1991 saw the Dublin-Meath saga, four wonderful games of football, and I was lucky enough to be at all four, and these spectacles ended all fears about the demise of Gaelic games.
Because of the performance of Charlton’s team many cynics began to see what were traditionally termed “foreign games” in a new light.
They began to see and understand that all sports are important and admirable in their own right. In sport there are no enemies. In fact, enemy is a direct contradiction of what sport is all about.
Last week when there was a suggestion that clubs should report their own county players if they did not observe the agreed training regulations, it got me back to thinking of Rule 42 and the prohibiting of games other than football or hurling being played in GAA grounds.
In the bad old days soccer and rugby were the games of the enemy, they were the garrison games and they had been hated and feared in equal measure for generations.
When one looks back at the fact that until 1971 GAA players were banned from playing soccer and rugby, and faced suspension if they even attended any of these games as a spectator, this was antiquated and very unsporting.
Every county had a vigilante committee to check out and report any possible offenders. It really was a dreadful way of doing business!
A true and interesting story relating to that era concerned Mick Mackey, one of the greatest hurlers ever to play the game. The Limerick legend loved going to “foreign games”. Mackey was obviously as skilful off the field as on it because he got himself appointed to the vigilante committee so he was free to attend all the foreign games he liked without fear of reprisal, and I don’t believe that anyone was ever suspended as a result of Mackey’s vigilance.
Like all sports people, I was very much looking forward to the resumption of our Gaelic games this weekend.
It is however difficult not to be concerned about the fact that four GAA clubs in Cork and one in Dublin have had to suspend all activity as a result of some of their members showing positive symptoms after testing for the dreadful virus which has had such negative consequences for so many families and people in every walk of life in recent months.
At a time of increasing complexity the GAA needs to move beyond the desire for activity and take an insightful look at the potential consequences of a second phase of the virus.
The consequences of this happening are too awful to even contemplate.
But despite all the negativity around the issue of club and county which I believe is over-hyped, the road map to date from Croke Park had much to recommend it.
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