GAA’s unequivocal response must stamp out racial abuse on the pitch
Opportunity for Congress to send out a clear message on the issue
Wexford’s Lee Chin: has gone on the record about the difficulties he has encountered with racism.
Lee Chin in action for Wexford footballers against Longford.
Scroll back a decade ago and there was general optimism that it would only be a matter of time before the GAA reflected the multi-ethnic spectrum which was beginning to define Ireland. It was and remains a thrilling idea: club and county teams made up of players whose grandparents had worn the same colours alongside team mates who could trace their grandparents to Africa or Asia or the farthest corners of Europe.
The persistent incidents of racist abuse on Ireland’s playing fields has weakened that idea and of all the reforms up for debate at this weekend’s Annual Congress, the motion listed number 54 dealing with racist (and sectarian) abuse is among the most pressing.
The make-up of contemporary GAA teams remains virtually unchanged to that of a century ago. Bloodlines matter and families who have had several generations of players distinguishing the game are naturally cherished. Parish and county identification remains the key to the GAA’s enduring success as both a source of local pride and a manifestation of what makes an area different.
The recent All-Ireland success of St Thomas’ hurling club, effectively made up of a handful of families, offered a dreamy example of a small club operating to the limits of its potential. Against that, the outpouring of joy witnessed on the streets of Dublin on the night that Pat Gilroy’s team claimed the All-Ireland championship of 2012 illuminated the importance of the Dubs in the capital.
The sad and dignified occasion of Kevin Heffernan’s funeral inadvertently illustrated that the GAA in Dublin is not really the juggernaut that it is portrayed to be: rather, it is a necklace of villages and a legacy of celebrated teams divided into very distinct eras.
Thus, the 1983 gang stood together and the 1995 team gravitated to one another and players from the current era also found one another as the crowd of mourners gathered.
[/CROSSHEAD]It is the nature of teams. One of the great things about the GAA season is that it doesn’t seem to change: the sleepiness of mid-league Sundays giving way to the let’s-be-done-with-it sense that often accompanies league finals and then the electric surge of those first championship Sundays. You can almost set your clock by the GAA calendar and, more often than not, the year doesn’t matter.
So the infusion into that culture of players from different ethnic backgrounds was always going to stand out. It was one of the reasons that made Jason Sherlock the somewhat reluctant celebrity that he became during the blazing summer of 1995 when his youth and devil-may-care optimism gave the Dubs the edge they needed to win an All-Ireland to which they had been tantalisingly close during that decade.
And of all the quotes associated with the voice of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, his observation on Seán Óg Ó hAilpín – “His father’s from Fermanagh, his mother’s from Fiji, neither a hurling stronghold” – ranks among the most beloved. It was a beautifully light way of at once making hurling seem international while localising Ó hAilpín’s family background.