Modern Life is Rubbish. So said Blur back in 1993. Before the advent of the modern internet, before you had a Hotmail address, before the foundation of Google, before internet forums, before text messages, before blogs, Bebo, My Space, Twitter, What’s App, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, TikTok.
Before podcasts, brand ambassadors, official partnerships, media training, media bans, Club Energise, Powerade, protein shakes, protein milk, back doors, group stages, AFL combines, Buff Egan and Fenway Classics.
Modern life was rubbish for Blur at the time because they were in danger of losing their record contract, were in severe debt, had just completed a disastrous tour of the USA and were being passed out by rival bands.
An experience that isn’t a million miles away from taking off on holiday a bit too close to a big game, perhaps?
All flippancy aside, however, now that things are beginning to move again, it’s hard not to think that Blur were right. Modern debates and directions in the GAA are pretty rubbish, and to paraphrase a hit from their previous album, Leisure, the fun has been taken out of everything.
Was it only just a moment ago that health was wealth? That nothing would happen without a vaccine? That any form of activity would be a bonus? That we’d take anything that we could get? That the GAA was doing what the GAA does best in taking a leading role in helping people in communities all over this beautiful island?
It was I suppose, but that moment has most definitely passed, evaporated, or dare I say it, been cancelled. The glimmer of hope eclipsed by the crippling reality of the GAA calendar and that old chestnut of club versus county.
It’s a debate that’s getting more and more entrenched and is moving steadily towards a point of implosion as it reflects the unforgiving world around us that makes you choose sides and stick to them.
Shame on this crowd, plague on that crowd, anonymous bile, and a plethora of blind warriors in a land of one-eyed omniscient kings. Maybe Yeats was right after all, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
It’s all been reduced to parody, a permanent GIF from the movie Downfall, you all know the one.
Croke Park and county board executives seem more and more like embattled German generals locked in the bunker at the end of the war in Berlin, plotting relentlessly against the club player, yet destined to ultimately defeat themselves due to their own lack of self-awareness.
At the other extreme, the club scene is more akin to Joan of Arc, a blessed saint who has seen the light but is destined for martyrdom on a bloodied field, to be named posthumously, outside Edenderry.
It is, of course, a source of unending frustration that the GAA refuses to address in any discernible way the most obvious problem that exists in the association. Players just want to be treated with a bit of respect. They want a programme they can organise their lives around.
The gift of playing is a short one, too short to be encumbered by the faceless bureaucracy that plagues the modern world, even in an amateur organisation like the GAA. An organisation that is constantly struggling to straddle the line of maintaining its noble ethos while concurrently staving off the threat of professionalism that would lead to its ruination.
In the current climate, it is beyond reprehensible that there cannot be a simple punishment for any inter-county set-up that doesn’t abide by the 14th September training date. Or that there cannot be a sensible resolution for those whose summers are cut short early. As for the blitz type championships planned in some counties? That’s just flabbergasting.
The Covid world has given us a rare chance for a semblance of equality when the inter-county game returns while giving life to the heart of the association. A chance to let the games be the games, to just let players play.
Because we are always told that players just want to play. And they do. However, a vast amount of energy and time is wasted on stopping players playing. The inter-county manager is the obvious culprit here. They have complete control over their players, and it is at their whim that players are ‘released’ back to their clubs.
But let me remind you of what Donald Rumsfeld would have called a known unknown; the club scene is not a land of milk and honey.
Players are constantly stopped from playing. For every inter-county manager that rules with an iron fist their must me a dozen club Tsars. And they’re not necessarily managing adults either. They don’t want ‘their’ players playing with schools, with colleges, with the U-21s, with the juniors. They certainly don’t want them playing the other code and I’m not even referring to sports that exist outside the umbrella of the association.
They’re the guys who watch for tactical innovation on the county scene and adapt it to create their own form of tyranny that can be unleashed on anybody from the age of 14 to 40.
If you would allow me to carry on with the musical theme of this piece, they are the George Michael brigade. They’ll tell you that if you’re gonna do it, you gotta do it right, and these guys are your men. Their ideals exist in a vacuum that thinks that their team is the only team, that the GAA life is the only identity and that look to postpone the U-21 game because there’s a senior game in seven days’ time.
Does the inter-county scene play havoc on the club fixture scene? It does. However, it isn’t the only thing. Fixture guides at the start of the year become exercises in fantasy due to innumerable obstacles; deaths, marriages, honeymoons, stags, duality, leaving cert holidays, music festivals, J1 visas, holidays and, if it’s a post-championship league game, a complete lack of interest.
The elitism slur is often thrown in the direction of the inter-county scene, often rightly so, but elitism is a fundamental part of the GAA whether we like it or not. Senior players look down on intermediate ones, senior clubs joke about junior clubs and grade ‘B’ hurling is looked down upon even by those who play it.
Harty schools poach from ‘lesser’ schools, the good fourteen-year-old plays u-16 to the humiliation of the sixteen-year-old, Kerry laugh at Cork football, city people cower at trips deep into the old woods of the west, hurling folk sniff at football while wide swaths of the association ignore hurling entirely and Joe Brolly gets to define what a ‘true Gael’ is.
At its heart, the current impasse is a cultural one and were Malcolm Gladwell to analyse it, he would probably say it’s a result of our cultural legacy going back to the time when we were an island of 150 kingdoms.
We have a culture in the GAA of having our cake and eating it. We want it all. We identify burnout as an issue yet rage against the re-organisation of underage structures. We stress the importance of second and third level GAA but continuously marginalise them. We lament the plight of the club player but are quick to lambaste inadequacies in our county regimes. We preach about the beauty of hurling yet do nothing to expand it. Our solution to an over-crowded fixture schedule is to increase the number of games. Shouldn’t we all look in the mirror before we draw the battle lines?
The ever-eloquent Kieran Shannon brilliantly surmised in The Irish Examiner on Wednesday how interconnected club and county are. No man is an island, county needs club, club needs county, there is plenty of room for both and we shouldn’t let the actions of the few speak for the many.
We’ll finish where we started. Blur told us that there was no other way. But in this instance, they were wrong. There is always another way, once we all remember that we have more in common than we do differences. And all we really want to do is to watch them all play.
And there’s still no guarantee that we’ll even get to do that.