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Opinion: Talk of sacrosanct jerseys and an apolitical GAA just doesn’t ring true

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by Adam Moynihan

The GAA recently refused the Mayo footballers’ request to wear rainbow-coloured numbers on their jerseys in the 2023 National League. The Association reportedly told the Mayo county board that playing gear is “sacrosanct”.

Let’s be honest: that’s not strictly true. In 2021, sleeve sponsors were given the green light, to add to the chest and upper back sponsors that already appear on many counties’ shirts.

Four branded areas on a jersey. That’s more than the Premier League allow, and the Premier League is regarded as one of the most money-hungry sporting bodies on the planet. I suppose everything is sacred until there’s money on the table.

The GAA’s response to Mayo and their charity partner Mindspace Mayo, who came up with the idea, has drawn a mixed reaction. Some have claimed that it’s a missed opportunity, but the ‘keep politics out of sport’ brigade are also out in force. That’s one argument I just can’t get on board with in general and it rings especially hollow in the world of Gaelic games.

Sports and politics have always been intertwined and the GAA is no different. The very foundation of the GAA was a political statement of sorts, an act of patriotism under British imperial rule. These strong ties between our national games and our nation’s political history are regularly highlighted by the Association itself and by stakeholders within it. In recent years, several teams, including the Cork footballers and hurlers, have worn jerseys commemorating Irish political figures.

O’Neills, the GAA’s primary kit supplier, sell Michael Collins-themed GAA shirts as well as 1916 jerseys with images of the post-Rising GPO on the front and Poblacht na hÉireann on the back.

Leaving all that to one side, it’s also worth pointing out that the Mayo footballers were not trying to make a political statement anyway. The aim of such projects is to make members of LGBTQ+ community feel welcome and to raise awareness around inclusivity, diversity and discrimination. We’re talking about human rights and basic human decency here, not politics.

There are those who say discrimination isn’t a problem in the GAA, that everyone is welcome already. If that is the case then why are there no openly gay intercounty players? It’s very likely that they do exist, and it’s also very likely that they’re worried about how they will be received if they come out. One of the top teams deciding to wear rainbow numbers might seem like a small gesture - I've seen plenty of people claiming that it would be meaningless - but doing so might provide reassurance to a gay player or supporter who is struggling with their sexuality. Would that not make it worthwhile?

Of course, whenever someone tries to do something positive in the name of inclusion, the term “virtue signalling” is inevitably thrown out there. This week, it’s the Mayo footballers’ turn to bear the brunt of it.

Funnily enough, the people who tend to use this term are often saying more about themselves than the people they’re targeting. In their own minds, when they see a person speaking up for a group that is less privileged, the only possible explanation they can come up with is that the person in question is seeking praise.

It’s a pretty narrow way of viewing the world but unfortunately that’s just how some people’s minds are shaped.

In defence of the GAA, they have not issued a blanket ban on rainbow colours. Thankfully this isn’t the Qatar World Cup we’re talking about. In the 2020 All-Ireland semi-final, players from Mayo and Tipperary, along with referee David Gough and his officials, participated in the Rainbow Laces campaign. It is understood that the GAA don’t have an issue with laces or armbands being worn in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

The only slight problem is that the Rainbow Laces campaign tends to run towards the end of the calendar year which suits the Premier League, for example, but not the GAA as the intercounty season ends much earlier. (2020 was an exception due to the pandemic.)

Of course, there’s nothing stopping the GPA and the GAA from coming together and organising their own campaign, if they want to.

It’s one thing saying that everyone is welcome and that the GAA is where we all belong. It’s another thing showing it.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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After six frustrating years in green and gold, latest setback was the last straw for Burns

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by Adam Moynihan

The news that Micheál Burns has left the Kerry panel raised a few eyebrows this week as Jack O’Connor indicated that the Dr Crokes man was unhappy with the amount of time he had been getting on the pitch.

On the surface it might seem a little rash. After all, Kerry have only played two competitive matches this year and the 27-year-old started one of them. But a closer look at his career in green and gold reveals that getting dropped for the Monaghan game a fortnight ago is the latest in a long line of setbacks that would take their toll on any footballer.

They say you make your own luck in sport and I’m sure Micheál himself would accept that he could have made more of some of the opportunities that he got, but all things considered he was unfortunate enough at times.

DEBUT

Burns first came to the attention of Kerry football supporters when he won the Man of the Match award in the 2014 All-Ireland minor final.

He eventually made his senior debut against Donegal in 2018, the same day Eamonn Fitzmaurice handed David Clifford and Seánie O’Shea their first starts at senior level. The diminutive but well-built wing forward kicked a point and he kept his place throughout the entire league campaign, scoring in six out of seven games (0-9 in total). It was an impressive return for a rookie.

However, he was still subbed off in six of those games, and this pattern would continue for much of his Kerry career. He started three times in the 2018 championship and scored 0-2 against both Cork and Kildare, yet he was taken off in all three matches.

2019 began with Crokes’ run to the All-Ireland Club final so he didn’t feature for Kerry in the league. His one start all year – against Meath in the Super 8s – ended on bad terms as Peter Keane subbed him off four minutes before half-time. Burns was visibly upset as he sat on the bench. It did seem like a harsh decision at the time. He didn’t play again that season.

The following year, 2020, turned out to be an annus horribilis for all of us but it actually started well for Burns. For my money he played his best football for his county in the pre-pandemic league matches. He wasn’t really known for his kicking at the time but he had clearly been working on this element of his game because he came out with all guns blazing.

After coming off the bench against Dublin in Croke Park, he started and scored in the next four matches, registering 0-2 against Galway, 0-1 against Tyrone, 0-3 against Meath and 0-1 against Mayo. Some of these points were real beauties. But he was still taken off in three of four games.

Covid was a disaster full stop but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industrious half forward from Killarney. He started both of the outstanding league fixtures when the season resumed in October but he couldn’t recapture that early season form. He didn’t see action in that disastrous defeat to Cork in the Munster semi-final as Keane started the match with a midfielder and a back in the half forward line.

FRUSTRATION

He started two games in the shortened 2021 season (against Dublin in the league and Tipperary in the championship) and once again his year ended in frustration when Keane left him lingering on the bench during Kerry’s extra time defeat to Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Burns might have been expecting his name to be called when David Clifford went down with an injury at the end of normal time – he was the last remaining forward on the bench – but instead Kerry turned to Paul Geaney, who had already been subbed off earlier in the game. Burns was eventually brought on as Kerry’s tenth sub with just four minutes of extra time to go. Whatever way you spin it, that must have been tough to take.

Jack O’Connor returned in 2022 and Burns hasn’t started a championship match since, although he did come on when Kerry beat Galway in the All-Ireland final. He also saw game time in each of Kerry’s last five championship outings of 2023. He didn’t score in those appearances last year and the lack of scoring threat from Kerry’s half forwards was a talking point at season’s end, but it could have been quite different for Burns had things gone his way.

He might have had a tap-in goal against Tyrone if Seánie O’Shea was feeling generous, and against Derry he was all alone and in a far better position when David Clifford decided to stop up and take a point to give Kerry a two-point lead late on. They were small moments but if they fell his way they could have shifted the narrative in Burns’ favour.

He played against Derry in the 2024 season opener but he didn’t have his best game and was substituted at half-time. Then he didn’t play against Monaghan the following weekend. After experiencing an uncommon amount of setbacks in his six-year career, this was evidently the straw that broke the camel’s back.

COMMITMENTS

No doubt some will say that it’s an honour to even be on the Kerry panel and there’s no shame in playing second fiddle to the calibre of forwards that Burns was up against. They’re right, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the man has to be content with not starting. The commitments that come with intercounty football are enormous. It’s hard enough when you’re getting the rewards you feel you deserve; it’s much harder when you’re not.

Burns will go back to his club and I’m sure he will be an important player for them for years to come.

As for Kerry, having a squad member depart mid-season is ideally something that you wouldn’t want to happen but if a guy isn’t happy, maybe it’s for the best. I’m sure Micheál’s friends on the panel will be sad to see him go but it shouldn’t be a big distraction. They are a professional group and it will be business as usual against Mayo on Saturday night.

For Kerry and for Burns, life goes on.

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