GAA Eile: Putting a price and value on everything in Gaelic Games

Dara Ó Cinnéide’s new series shows how GAA values are changing in every way

Mícheál McGee, aged 11, from Gaoth Dobhair ahead of the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final against Corofin. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Mícheál McGee, aged 11, from Gaoth Dobhair ahead of the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final against Corofin. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

There are a lot of people right now with a lot of different opinions on what exactly the GAA stands for. Including some of the old proverbial cynics who like to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

When Dara Ó Cinnéide set out to film GAA Eile – the new four-part series which begins on Monday evening – he didn’t have a strict definition or indeed figure in mind; by the end even less so. He did discover some of the old values in the GAA may well be changing, for better or for worse, only in other cases might still be considered priceless.

“It started out as a look at all the money washing through the GAA, but over the series that really changed to the values, how in many cases they are still respected, but are also changing,” says Ó Cinnéide, Kerry’s three-time All-Ireland winner, captain in 2004.

“This is not a hard-nosed Primetime type of exposé, of who is spending what. It does take a look across all the vested interests in the GAA, from players to managers and sponsors, and provides a sort of snapshot, an observation, of where we are, and maybe where we are going.

“And yes the dirty old word of money does come up quite a bit, but it’s also unfair to be saying Dublin, for example, is all about money. We went into Kilmacud Crokes, in south Dublin, and you see the sheer numbers they’re catering for. The GAA is a games promotion organisation, and they are promoting the games very well.

“It’s not their fault they’re so successful, and the real question is why it took Dublin this long, why they weren’t so successful 30 years ago. And for clubs in Dublin now the big issue is pitches and time and space. Or as Alan Milton in Croke Park says, the GAA didn’t draw the county lines, they call only play around them.”

GAA Eile was spawned from last year’s series, GAA Nua, which examined the growing use of technology and sports science in the GAA; along with Galway filmmaker Pat Comer, Ó Cinnéide found the subject matter at times similar.

Crossroads

“Finishing that initial series with Pat, last year, we were both thinking the GAA is at crossroads. Look at the Super-8s in football, more hurling games, it’s all about money, extra income. But it’s gone past the crossroads, and is now on a highway, and there’s no reverse gear. It’s not going back to simpler times, and we can’t keep decrying this. Maybe we have to accept it more of it, accept where the GAA is going.

“I’ve had my own other prejudices over the years, as player, and mentor now with An Ghaeltacht, about the GPA, about the Sky deal, and sometimes you have to suppress that. Like going to Boston last November for the hurling Super-11s I would have been highly cynical, thinking this was a load of rubbish, to be honest, then you walk into Fenway Park, see commitment of the players, see the people who come out to watch.

“Yes, there is a commercial, fund-raising element, but it’s also showcasing the game, and I certainly came around to that idea. And this series is about observation, not railing rail against anything. This is a snapshot of 2018, the values people bring to the game.”

Over the four-part series, the four main components of modern Gaelic Games are observed: starting with men’s football, episode two looks at hurling, episode three moves to the women’s games, football and camogie, before episode four goes back to the club.

“The one abiding feeling I had in the end is there’s no going back, as much as we want to resent certain changes, the GAA needs vision, and I don’t envy the official decisions who are in that position. I’ve certainly become more aware of the need for that in my own club. The GAA are trying to spin a lot of plates in the air, trying to keep an awful lot of things going and trying to get them right.

“There is no doubt there is an erosion of some of those old values. But it’s easier to appear intelligent about the game if you appear negative. What are Dublin doing right? As opposed to what’s wrong with Dublin? At the end of the day the GAA is about participation, and there are more kids talking part than ever now at underage.

“I also think the rural-urban thing is actually one of the biggest issues right now. We have so many clubs with such a proud tradition, and the biggest strength of the GAA over the last 135 years has been about identity, traditions, and values.

“That’s also the biggest obstacle to progress, being so proud of the community, or parish. Take Valentia Island, club of Mick O’Connell, arguably the greatest player of all time, couldn’t field a team last weekend. For them it’s about survival, staying alive, without having to amalgamate. If we want to hold on to those values, and the ultimate aim of the GAA is participation, and staying 15 aside, everything is numbers dictated.”

GAA Eile starts this Monday, 8.30pm, on RTÉ1

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