Hall of Fame celebrates sporting heroes for future generations
On Gaelic Games:Amid controversies, upcoming congress issues and tight-focus agonising on the fate of counties in the league, GAA president Liam O’Neill pinpointed the enduring appeal of the games when speaking at the inaugural inductions of Eamonn Cregan, Tony McTague and the Teams of the Millennium into the association’s newly established Hall of Fame.
Central to everything were the games and those who played them and that Croke Park was now doing something to honour the players who had made significant contributions.
“This new facility will serve as a permanent reminder to the greatness of the players who adorned our game at the highest level,” he said. “It is important that these players are remembered not only by those who were lucky enough to see them, but crucially by those who did not have that privilege.”
It was poignant timing, coming less than a fortnight after the funeral of one Hall of Famer, Kevin Heffernan, and the same day as that of Jimmy Smyth, a strong candidate for future induction.
Of less obvious but equal relevance was the passing of Brendan Fullam at the weekend. At a time when the GAA inexplicably paid little attention to its sporting heritage, Fullam picked up the slack and published inter alia three volumes about great hurlers, from memories of those who had long departed to the reminiscences of those still with us.
Writing in foreword to the second volume, Hurling Giants, Tom Humphries wrote: “Gaelic games have no true Hall of Fame, no physical shrine to the sporting history, but at least hurling now has Brendan Fullam and his wonderful books.” Since that pioneering work concluded in 1997, the GAA has made up a lot of ground. A year later the museum was opened in Croke Park and now attracts 100,000 visitors a year. In recent years under director Mark Dorman and curator Joanne Clarke, the facility has been consistently improved and updated – the latest refurbishment is under way and scheduled for completion next month.
It was inevitable that the desirability of a Hall of Fame would be addressed sooner or later as such exhibits are an integral part of the big US sports.
The most resonant and relevant mission statement is probably that of another team sport, baseball: “The Hall of Fame’s mission is to preserve the sport’s history, honour excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball.” Making that connection between the generations is a vital part of the GAA museum’s remit.
So much effort has gone into making it a facility that belongs to everyone: your club’s name is part of the display at the museum entrance and its database can be checked; school tours explain how the history of the association is also an important part of the country’s cultural heritage and clubs are encouraged to use the facilities for their functions.