A sublime GAA season
When the GAA celebrated its 125th anniversary at the beginning of 2009, just as the awful scale of Ireland’s economic disaster was emerging, comparison was made between the contemporary celebration of a significant anniversary and the environment into which the association was born, as among the varied preoccupations of founding father Michael Cusack were those of national morale and the need for economic revival.
It has been significant in the years since that although the GAA has like the rest of society suffered a great deal from the extent of Government cutbacks – in its case in the area of community- and sports-based projects – as well the cost to human capital in the revived traffic of emigration, public interest in and attendance at Gaelic games has held up impressively.
Part of the credit for this goes to the various promotional pricing initiatives, which have reduced – slightly – income from big matches but helped successfully to protect attendance figures, which have fallen surprisingly little from the high point of the boom years.
At times interest in mass-spectator sport can be dismissed as the ancient Roman phenomenon of bread and circuses – a calculated attempt to distract ordinary citizens from taking any interest in civic affairs – except the dynamic in Gaelic games operates in the exactly opposite fashion.
Spell-binding events like last week’s All-Ireland hurling final replay, the original drawn match, and the Dublin-Kerry football semi-final are presented to the world at large by ordinary citizens, who through their voluntary activity preserve, develop and play –- to spectacular effect – Ireland’s indigenous games.
Cusack’s mission to restore national morale may realistically be beyond the modern GAA in the face of the grim reality of economic conditions of the country, but after a wonderful summer that saw perhaps the best championship season in living memory the ability of Gaelic games to engage and inspire the community, at both local and national level, triumphantly endures.
What is staged at Croke Park and many other venues around Ireland won’t clear the national debt but remains a source of genuine unmitigated pride – something that can be universally projected as overwhelming positive and uniquely our own.