Friday, August 24, 2012

The GAA, Irish culture and playing by the rules

Some thoughts in response to Sean Moran's excellent article on the (non)-enforcement of rules in the GAA, and Irish society more generally.

(I posted this as a comment at the end of the article also)

The article raises a very important issue about Irish culture with regard to rules and rule-breakers. There is also an interesting parallel here with political and economic affairs in that the nearer you get to the 'top' - in whatever context - it seems, the less stringently the rules of the game are applied. 

In relation to the hurling example referred to in Sean's article, I was also disappointed with the reaction of the TV pundits on Sunday (making excuses for the violence on display and refusing to countenance the idea that this shouldn't be a part of the game). 

I fully agree with the idea that hurling is - and should remain - a physically intense contact sport. That intensity - in terms of physicality, skill and speed - is part of what makes it such an attractive sport both to play and to watch. However, it is the marriage of that intensity with - what is generally - an honest and sporting atmosphere amongst players and spectators, that sets the GAA, and hurling in particular, apart from other sports. 

I thought the GAA had begun to grow out of its adolescent need to appear "manly" at all costs. What were common practices in the past, such as mocking players for wearing white boots for example, or even for wearing a helmet, seem largely to have disappeared. But sadly, experienced analysts, all true 'hurling men' and supposedly experts on the game - cannot seem to make what should be a fairly simple distinction between a physical intensity that is fair and sporting - shoulder to shoulder challenges, pulling on the ball with both hands on the hurl etc. - as opposed to some of the cynical and ugly stuff we saw on Sunday (and in other games). The wild strokes on Michael Rice and TJ Reid were just the most egregious examples of this.

Striking your opponent with the hurl should always result in a sending off. As should interfering with another player's helmet. There is also what appears to be a fairly common practice of 'butting' your opponent with the end of the hurl - usually into the ribs or stomach - which has become the standard greeting onto the field for a newly arrived sub. This is another form of striking with the hurl which should result in a straight red card and yet seems to pass almost without comment, even when it is picked up by the cameras. 

Between the reappearance of this 'all part of the game' attitude to indiscipline and the public support from some senior GAA figures for Sean Quinn, it has been a regressive summer in terms of GAA culture.

Update: On a brighter note, this inspirational and very funny speech from Cork inter-county hurler Donal Og Cusack at the Foyle Pride Festival, represents a massive and welcome step forward for GAA and Irish culture: 

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