The Paudie Palmer column: Whatever about West Cork border, GAA landscape will be forever altered by Covid-19

The Paudie Palmer column: Whatever about West Cork border, GAA landscape will be forever altered by Covid-19
Alan Holland, Ilen Rovers, getting away from Colm O’Driscoll, Carbery, during their Cork County SFC match at Castlehaven in 2017. Picture: Dan Linehan

ONE day last week, influenced by speculation that people in cities and towns would head to their holiday homes for Easter, but also because I had nothing better to do, I posted on social media that a border check would be put in place in Innishannon at midnight.

I didn’t think much more of it until I started receiving calls as to whether it was true or not.

I have been at this social media lark for a while now, to fill the space and to silence the visiting dark noises.

A few people might engage with my posts, but most would not. This was different, despite it being a poor effort at a joke.

It was obvious that the people of West Cork didn’t want visitors who might have Covid-19 invading their spot and possibly spreading the virus and threatening the local population.

The following morning, I received two calls — one from local radio, and one from a national newspaper — and both wanting to do a feature on the 'fictitious border'.

Honestly, I felt a tad guilty, having to tell these two decent people that the story was no more than my attempt at humour.

Twenty four hours after the so-called humorous post, not alone were there ‘border checks’ in Innishannon, they were at a number of other gateways to West Cork.

These checks, known as Operation Fanacht, remained in situ right across the weekend. No, I was not claiming credit for such activity.

The reason for mentioning any of the above is just to illustrate how our lives have changed.

It was disheartening that a number of the citizens ignored the government guidelines and their civic duty and headed to their summer residences, prior to Operation Fanacht and to avoid the garda checkpoints.

A gentleman who lives near one of the roadways that head West was having difficulty sleeping, due to back pain, between 4am and 5am, and he noticed a stream of traffic.

Later that morning, at around 6am, a South Kerry sheep farmer saw steady traffic passing through Kenmare town.

Those drivers were brave Irish citizens, no doubt.

Were they from some disadvantaged areas of our towns and cities? While one can’t be sure, I would doubt if any of the fine residents of so-called disadvantaged areas have summer homes in our scenic spots of West Cork and Kerry.

A few weeks back, while the hopeful corner was doing well against the reality corner, I received a call from a manager of one of the premier intermediate teams in the county.

After the initial chit-chat, the conversation moved on to what was the main discussion item between GAA heads at the time: speculating as to when our playing fields would again welcome footfall onto their manicured surfaces.

After a number of scenarios were exhausted, I mentioned that the county championships might be played, but not the provincial and the All-Ireland club championship. I am not even sure as to where that thought came from, but no sooner had I said it, the response was immediate.

“If that was the case, we wouldn’t be interested in winning the county championship,” he said.

For a moment, I had to take stock, but then the euro dropped.

This manager had the ultimate prize in his sights. Winning the county championship was only a means to an end: the dream is a date with destiny in Croke Park.

One can only admire his ambition.

Cork legend Teddy McCarthy presents a Cork GAA shirt to his former boss at Beamish & Crawford Alf Smiddy at the launch of the new shirt from Suits Distributors, honouring the 30th anniversary of the double. Will be either a football or hurling All-Ireland championship this year?
Cork legend Teddy McCarthy presents a Cork GAA shirt to his former boss at Beamish & Crawford Alf Smiddy at the launch of the new shirt from Suits Distributors, honouring the 30th anniversary of the double. Will be either a football or hurling All-Ireland championship this year?

As I put these few thoughts on paper, I am aware that the GAA will have a virtual special congress on Friday and while I don’t expect any major announcements as to when on-field action will resume, I presume the objective is to give a mandate to management, enabling them to make all future decisions as to how any championship will proceed in 2020, if it does.

A number of social and political commentators have said that a possible silver lining of the Covid-19 lockdown is that when the virus has passed, we will have an opportunity to do things better in this country, in particular in relation to the social issues such as health, housing, climate change, and education.

Thankfully, for your sake, my lack of expertise prevents me from dealing with any of the above and there is a body of opinion that when Covid-19 begins to fade in the memory, we will all go back to our old attitudes and habits.

That may well be the case, but one opportunity that must be grasped is the chance to change the whole workings of the GAA.

Maybe the threat of the virus and the changes it has wrought in how we live have made me more reflective, or maybe I have been slow to realise that the inter-county juggernaut was about to bring about the end of the GAA as some of us knew it.

By the way, I am not referring to any changes that will or should happen in 2020.

One figure that focused the attention of many was the €30m that was spent on the preparation of inter-county teams in 2019.

That figure, together with the salary bill that the GAA must now pay for what some would reckon is close to 500 employees, is simply not sustainable, unless you maintain the present inter-county bandwagon or, indeed, enhance it.

The solution — to just reduce all inter-county activity considerably — may be somewhat more complicated than would appear to be the case.

The finance from gate receipts, sponsorship, and media rights is now a huge chunk of the GAA’s income and, as a consequence, is the main source of revenue for paying staff.

So, to reduce the inter-county programme to hand back some of the calendar for club activity may create a scenario where paid personnel will lose their jobs.

I know that quite a few GAA volunteers find it hard to believe that in excess of 100 people are employed in Croke Park. Another bone of contention for many is the Gaelic Players Association and the funding it receives from central funds.

Those who have called for its serious curtailment may have got their wish, but not in the manner in which they would have liked.

When Covid-19 is finally shown the red card, the hope is that we will look forward to a new Ireland, but also a new GAA.

In the meantime, tabhair aire duit féin.

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