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‘GAA should pull the plug on intercounty season’

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Killarney Advertiser columnist Eamonn Fitzgerald says the GAA should postpone the intercounty football and hurling championships due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis

 

Call them off now. Better late than never.

I feel that the GAA at national level should call off all intercounty football and hurling games, foregoing the 2020 championships, and let the Sam Maguire and the McCarthy cups rest this year.

The fall-out from COVID-19 is far too serious, with the number of cases and, more sadly, deaths increasing daily. Last Saturday there were 1,000 cases reported. No country worldwide and, indeed, no person is immune to this deadly virus.

We have never seen anything like it before. I spoke to my oldest cousin in the Bronx as early as St Patrick’s Day and she said she never endured anything like this abnormality, even though she is 101 years old (and thankfully in great health) and went through several emergencies such as World War I and 9/11.

DILEMMA

I appreciate the dilemma for organisations such as the GAA, wishing that their games and competitions should go ahead, a godsend for active players, management teams and supporters. It is good for the mental health of all, irrespective of age.

On the initial re-opening, I was all in favour of going ahead with the club scene from juvenile right through to adult players, but to let 2020 be devoted exclusively for the club and colleges games and competitions. That would have provided an easily prepared road map for these competitions right up to December.

It would also facilitate the running of club competitions right up to the All-Ireland club stage. Colleges’ games could have been played up to All-Ireland final stage. Furthermore, local football games administrators would have far more weekends available to stage competitions. The East Kerry Board would relish that prospect, instead of trying to run off its many competitions too quickly. As it is the O’Donoghue Cup, its premier competition, will not be concluding until 2021.

We surely have learned one thing from COVID-19: the GAA should have separate seasons for club and intercounty. What a joy it was to see county players welcomed back home to train and play with the colleagues who grew up with them from under six. The elite players will eventually return to their clubs when they finish their intercounty careers – now they will be back where they should be.

PULL THE PLUG

I say that the GAA should pull the plug on the remaining two games of the NFL and the entire 2020 championships. Postpone them. I’m sure the Dubs would settle for a postponement, but not a cancellation. A record breaking six-in-a-row is too inviting.

Presently, the Fermanagh football team are in limbo, isolating after eight of their players tested positive for the virus. Do they forfeit the vital away match to Clare this weekend and their Ulster Championship fixture in a few weeks’ time? God forbid, what if players from glamorous teams such as Kerry and Dublin in football and Kilkenny in hurling are hit by the virus? Will the GAA then be forced to close down?

Postpone the 2020 intercounty competitions. Yes, be that clinical. Lives are at risk and there are many examples of precedents for this action. Let’s look at the early years of the All-Ireland senior football series for instance.

In the first year of the All-Ireland SFC, in 1887, Limerick beat Louth 1-4 to 0-3 in the All-Ireland final. No problem. In 1888, the championship went unfinished. The GAA committee travelled to the USA to promote the games abroad and raise money.

In 1903, Kerry won their first All-Ireland title and they played matches over three years to get there. After numerous delays and rematches, the third ‘home’ final against Kildare was eventually played in October 1905, and the overall championship was sealed when they defeated London in November.

The 1904 and 1905 finals were played in 1906, the 1906 final was played in 1907 and the 1907 final was played in 1908.

In 1910, Kerry refused to travel to Dublin for the final against Louth because the Great Western Railway (pre-dating CIE and Irish Rail) would not sell tickets to their supporters at reduced rates.

And the 1916 championship experienced several delays stemming from players’ involvement in revolutionary activities.

TOMORROW

Look at the dangers of Kerry travelling all the ways up to Monaghan today (Friday) individually by car, certainly not in close proximity by bus and the resultant cost incurring with travel expenses and hotels/meals. The virus is rampant in the six counties and Monaghan is very close to the border. So too is Donegal, a hot spot for COVID-19, and they are due to travel down to play Kerry in Tralee next week.

One week later, Kerry are away to Cork in the Munster Championship semi-final.

The All-Ireland final is fixed for December 20. If Kerry get there, how many supporters would be willing to travel in bad weather, shortened days and when everything suggests that the pandemic will still be with us as we prepare for year’s end?

The most likely scenario is that the final would be staged behind closed doors. The risks of carrying infection are too high a price to pay for staging these games. The U20 footballers’, whose All-Ireland semi-final v Galway is also tomorrow, and the hurler’s, who must play Antrim in their league final, face the same dilemma.

It is estimated that it would cost the GAA €18 million to stage their championships and the government has already pledged a nice sum to the GAA to run them off. Why incur that expense to later be asking a beleaguered government for a sizeable bailout?

We saw enough of that with the bailout of the FAI, emanating from the John Delaney rip-off and other unacceptable and unsustainable accounting practices by the association’s council.

I don’t agree with the government allowing games for elite players to continue. The recent Irish international soccer matches should not have gone ahead and the Irish team should not have been allowed to travel to another country, running the real risk of importing the virus. The damage was done on the outward airline journey to Bratislava. Players Connolly and Idah did not sit in their designated seats, and were less than two metres away from an FAI official who subsequently tested positive. Irish manager Stephen Kenny had to pull both players from his intended first 11.

The GAA caters for the biggest cohort of sports players and supporters in Ireland. Its members did a wonderful job in the first lockdown (as did other sporting and community organisations), serving communities so well. They can show the way in this second wave by pulling the plug on all games for the rest of 2020.

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No reform for football championship as Plan B falls short

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by Adam Moynihan

There will be no radical change for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2022 after a motion to restructure the format of the competition failed at GAA Special Congress on Saturday afternoon.

Motion 19 (also referred to as ‘Proposal B’ or ‘Plan B’) proposed that the National League and All-Ireland Championship should become one competition, with the provincial championships being separated from the All-Ireland series for the first time ever.

The motion needed support from 60% of delegates but, contrary to projections, it fell well short of that majority. In the end, after an hour-and-a-quarter of debate, just 50.6% of voters opted for Plan B.

Plan A – four groups of eight “provinces” plus an All-Ireland series – garnered far less support. 90% of those present voted against that particular proposal, which was down as Motion 18 on the agenda.

The end result of the two failed motions is that intercounty football will revert to the status quo as it was before the Super 8s were introduced in 2018, with a qualifier or “back door” system in place. A second tier competition known as the Tailteann Cup will also be staged.

ARGUMENTS

Introducing Motion 19 to delegates at Croke Park, former GAA President John Horan described the proposal as a starting point.

“If we feel we need to improve it, that opportunity would be there,” he said. “This proposal will mean more matches for our players and a better playing to training ratio.”

CEO of the Gaelic Players Association Tom Parsons said the ‘league as championship’ model would spark life into Gaelic football, before reading the testimonies of some intercounty players who supported Plan B. Among them was current Kerry captain Paul Murphy, who was quoted as saying: “The time has come to try a new structure for our football championship.”

Parsons added that some players are being “laughed at” while wearing county tracksuits after suffering heavy defeats.

Former GAA President and ex-Kerry GAA Chairman Seán Kelly also spoke out in favour of Proposal B, suggesting that it should be trialled for a period of three years.

“If you stand still, you go backwards,” the Kilcummin native said. “This motion should be trialled for a maximum of three years and then reviewed. To turn our backs on the voice of the players does not make sense to me.”

Michael Duignan from Offaly, Colm Collins from Clare, Seán Carroll from Sligo, Kevin O’Donovan from Cork and Declan Bohan from Leitrim all backed the proposal.

Representatives from Mayo, Donegal, Antrim, Cavan, Derry, Monaghan and Armagh argued against.

Mayo GAA Chairman Liam Moffatt raised concerns about the sixth place team in Division 1 not qualifying for the All-Ireland series while teams from lower divisions would.

Tiernach Mahon of Fermanagh GAA said that “this motion has the potential to destroy the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Fermanagh people”.

Meanwhile, Kerry GAA chair Tim Murphy called for Motion 19 to be voted on at Congress 2022 instead.

“It’s a really strong motion with really good attributes and something we should really consider. But I would caveat that by saying it would be a travesty today if the motion is put to the floor and defeated. All the work of the committee would go to waste.

“The sense I get from the floor is that everybody is for change and for us to grow and evolve as an Association we have to accept that. I do feel the motion has huge attributes, but maybe we should go around to the provinces and invite in county officers and players to have their view. If we come back in 12 or 13 weeks with the same motion, then no-one can say we haven’t discussed it properly.

“Perhaps bringing this motion to Congress 2022 is the best solution to the situation we find ourselves in.”

Bringing the debate to a close, Horan again urged delegates to back the proposal.

His pleas fell on deaf ears, however – at least for 83 of the 168 people in attendance. 100 ‘yes’ votes were needed for change, but Motion 19 received just 85.

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A lover of music and song: Jimmy O’Brien RIP

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Eamonn Fitzgerald remembers the late Jimmy O’Brien, the eminently popular bar owner, singer and GAA fan who left an indelible mark on the town of Killarney.

Publican Jimmy O’Brien was laid to rest at sunny Aghadoe on Monday last. He wouldn’t want any fuss, but he got his promise from his lifelong friend, Jimmy Doyle. Jimmy was on the button accordion playing ‘Mary from Bonane’, a firm favourite, and even more so in recent weeks when Bonane native Seán O’Shea was kicking points from all angles.

After his love for his family, nothing meant more to Jimmy O’Brien than football, music and song.

Born in the town land of Lyreatough, Kilcummin in 1932, he attended the local Anabla NS and was well inducted in the various stages of getting the turf from sleán to the reek in the haggard. He was of the bog and proud of it. But he knew it was very hard work and headed for town, specifically Culloty’s Garage at Fair Hill (now Killarney Hardware). There he learned his trade as a mechanic. He didn’t boast about it but was very proud of the papers he received to certify him as fully qualified.

Like so many more people of that time, he was taken to America by Patrick Cronin in 1956 and was home for good in 1961. He must have collected a fair fistful of dollars and held on to them because, when Conno Healy’s pub came up for sale in 1959 (across the road from Culloty’s), he bought it. He returned home to open up Jimmy O’Brien’s pub along with his wife, Mary.

The family came along in due course – Siobhán, Ann and Jim – and the business grew. All went well until September 29, 1994, when his beloved Mary passed away aged 61. Too young to die and it hit him hard. No wonder; wasn’t she his life and soul?

His three children, the bar and his twin loves of football and song kept him going. He had no time for soccer, recounting times he would go up to the Friary, say the rosary, and still no score when he returned.

He was an ardent supporter of the Kerry football teams, but even more passionate about club football. Which was his club?

ROGUES

Set the scene in the Fair Hill bar, with a nice crowd inside. That’s the way he liked it – he got a bit flustered if it became jam-packed. It’s summer time and the O’Donoghue Cup draw has been published.

Johnny Batt (Cronin) was the instigator, and his Spa club mates the Herlihy brothers (Dave and William) stirred it further. Who was Jimmy going to support in the forthcoming matches, in which the rivalry would be intense? Mick Gleeson was as philosophical as ever; he knew better than to try and win this one.

The McCarthy brothers from Gneeveguilla, Thado, Joe and Billy, were in fast to lay claim to the boss of the house. After all, wasn’t he reared in the traditions of Sliabh Luachra and one of its finest sean-nós singers? Rosy was far more definite. Gneeveguilla, of course, I have to say.

Kilcummin’s Dermot Moynihan was in no doubt about how the allegiance would stand. After all, Jimmy was born in the parish, went to school in the parish and the parish rule was, and still is, sacrosanct in Kerry football.

The odds favoured the country clubs and were stacked against the townies. Weeshie Fogarty was a regular and he had lined Jimmy up for Terrace Talk.

His daughter, Ann, married Harry O’Neill (Dr Crokes), Tom Long was his gun club friend traipsing around Cock Hill and not a word out of him, but beside him supping porter and watching the scene develop was Mike Cooper, the man who was born just inside the county bounds and was now living in Killarney. The Crokes are the team, said Mike, his chest swelling with pride. He had just returned from Cahersiveen where Dr Crokes had defied the odds to beat the Maurice Fitzgerald-led South Kerry team in the Kerry County Championship. Five of his sons played the full match to secure victory. But I thought there were only four?

“No, I have five, all good, but the youngest is only a slip of a lad. You’d think you’d blow him over, but the foxy boy will be the best of all of them.” How right he was. The boy became a man and won five All-Irelands with Kerry. Crokes went on to win the 2000 Kerry SFC, managed by Harry O’Neill, Jimmy’s son-in-law.

How was the proprietor going to get out of this one before the gallery of rogues? Sure, he was the greatest rogue of all himself, but we loved him for it.

Everyone looked to Jimmy for an answer, but he turned to another regular, the independent voice of Bracker, from the Rock.

Plenty of grimacing and carry on, but no answer to Johnny Batt’s question. Jimmy O’Brien had the knack of not falling out with anyone and he couldn’t win this one, so he carried confirmation of club allegiance with him to his grave.

I’m pretty sure it is Gneeveguilla, in the heart of Sliabh Luachra, which made Jimmy O’Brien a household name in traditional music, especially with his lifelong ‘brother’ Jimmy Doyle. He embraced the greatness of Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary, the Doyle brothers and many more.

SINGING

What’s more, he enhanced that marvellous tradition, not in playing, but in singing. I asked Jimmy Doyle at the graveside about Jimmy on the melodeon. “Oh, he could play… But he was only alright! But for singing he was tops, pure and just outstanding. He could interpret a song so well. You wouldn’t hear a pin drop when he sang unaccompanied.”

Is it any wonder that his pub in Fair Hill was a mecca for traditional singers and musicians? They came to the master’s pub for a session.

Paddy Moloney, chief of The Chieftains, was a regular caller; as were The Dubliners; and the Kelly brothers, Luke of ‘Raglan Road’ and Paddy, who was also a beautiful singer. When Paddy was head of the Trade Unions, they held their conferences in Killarney’s Great Southern Hotel. Business over, they trooped down to O’Brien’s. The pint was much cheaper there and they would have a right session singing, and what are you having yourself, sir?

Dolly McMahon, The Wolfe Tones, and the Begley’s all came to sing and play.

There were so many impromptu sessions and you’d get the discreet phone call that the session had already started. “Come, you’ll enjoy it, but ná h-abair focal to anyone.” What an invitation to listen to musical greats from the list above.

“Johnny O’Leary and the Doyles will be here around 10. We have Seán Ó Sé (Poc ar Buile), Johnny Lehane and Diarmaidín Ó Súillabháin will be here from Cúl Aodh. He’ll have the recorder for Radio na Gaeltachta.”

Regular visitors were Mick O’Connell, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Donncha Ó Dulaing and Cíarán Mac Mathúna. Thankfully, Ciarán recorded so many of Jimmy’s songs, preserving this priceless legacy for the Irish oral tradition.

And then there were the American tourists drawn to a real Irish pub. They wanted ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Galway Bay’. They also wanted to know what music college from which the vintner graduated. The prime boys from UCC provided him with the answer for the Yanks question. The University of Sliabh Luachra, with its constituent college in Lyreatough. “Wow, fancy that. Must Google that when we get back to the States.”

FRIENDSHIP

My friendship with Jimmy O’Brien goes back a long ways, but specifically to November 1969, when East Kerry won the second of their Kerry SFC titles and the Bishop Moynihan Cup had pride of place.

He introduced me to so many people, including Con Houlihan, sitting in the high seat inside the door, hair well down his back, no pigtail and his hand cupped to his nose. This genius of a wordsmith was a shy man that I met many times later in Dublin.

Just like Paddy Moloney, Jimmy shared his talents with so many young up and coming singers who went on to great things in life. I recall one such case. A very young nervous girl was preparing for her first time on stage, a recitation in Scór. Would he help her out?

Would he what? Bring her along. To this day the now adult woman recalls sitting up on that seat inside the door and this gentle, loving man encouraging her with great tips.

That seat is long gone, but not the bar stand. He splashed out on a magnificent mahogany piece, surplus to the requirements of the Great Southern. “That’s not like you,” says Johnny Batt. “What’ll you use it for?”

“It’ll be a fine bar counter,” Jimmy replied. “And what’s more, when its job is done, won’t it make a fine coffin?”

He was a great Friary man and the highlight of St Patrick’s Day was the singing of the Ár nAthair. Father and daughter, Jimmy and Siobhán, the All-Ireland champion singer unaccompanied in touching harmony. Flawless. Enchanting.

His relationship with his son Jim was more like that of brothers, looking after each other. They got great joy out of travelling to matches in the ageless red Mercedes, certainly the only one in Killarney, if not in Europe. He never got a parking ticket and definitely was never caught for speeding. I’m convinced that the former mechanic set cruise control at 40km and away she went with co-pilot Jim Bob. No need for GPS, Jim Bob in control. God help the poor motorist trying to pass out on the rural roads.

July was his favourite month to live his passions. The Munster final in Killarney on the first Sunday of July was the occasion to meet so many of his friends from afar. It was also the first day of the Willie Clancy festival at Miltown–Malbay and that ran for a week. He never missed it, linking up with Galway hurlers Joe McDonagh and the Connolly brothers and especially their aunts and uncles, the Jimmy O’Brien cultivators of traditional singing and music in Connemara. It was his spiritual retreat. Sustenance for another year.

His nephew, Fr Liam O’Brien, celebrated the touching funeral mass, enhanced by the singing of Maura Reen.

I had the good fortune to spend an hour with Jimmy less than a fortnight before he died. He wanted to know the inside story on Jack O’Connor’s return and then sang ‘The Boys of Bárr na Sráide’ and Garry McMahon’s ‘Kerry’s Green and Gold’.

Pitch perfect. Word perfect. Never a faltering note.

“Not bad for an ould fella,” were his parting words. He knew he could still do it and I was so happy to video live the Master of Songs, treasured recordings for the memory bank.

I wonder if St Peter will listen in on the hop balls between new neighbours, Johnny Batt and Jimmy O’Brien?

To Siobhán, Ann, Jim and extended families, as well as friends from far and near, comhbhrón ó chroí.

Traditional cultural Ireland has lost some great people in recent weeks: Tony Loughnane, Paddy Moloney, Máire Mac an tSaoí, Brendan Kennelly and Jimmy O’Brien. Class acts.

And Jimmy, go gcloisfidh tú na h-aingil ag déanamh ceoil leat ar Neamh.

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