ASK most players why they’re playing GAA and the answer will be somewhere along the lines of wanting to win medals.
Obviously, the player-profile stock answer of “the friends you make” is a genuine benefit, but everything is more enjoyable when you’re successful. However, while the idea of winning a medal can be a motivation, the actual ironmongery itself is not of the prime importance you might think.
This is reflected by a change made by Cork County Board with regard to county senior championship medals. Previously, they were gold and worth a few hundred euro but, while former Cork player and manager Gerald McCarthy retains the contract, the specification of the medals has changed – they will now be mainly silver with some gold edging.
It is believed that there has not been any dissent from clubs with regard to this.
The saving to the board is considerable and it’s understandable that the decision has been made to find areas of cost-reallocation when the medals themselves cane be forgotten about.
We conducted a very unscientific straw poll among current and past Cork players as to the whereabouts of their medals and some of the answers would seem to indicate that the cut-backs were not a bad idea. Essentially, a lot are in the childhood homes.
“You’d have to ask my dear mother, unfortunately,” one said, “And she would probably struggle then even.”
Another said, “I have them at home in the parents’ house but would have to go looking for them!” while a third revealed that his medals were in “a wardrobe up in my parents’ house...all in a black box that was originally for toy cars.” One player knew the exact location but they weren’t on proud display: “They are in their boxes on a shelf in my room in the parents’ house.”
Some were organised, to be fair. One kept his in a medal box but was planning a proper display, another is hoping to frame the jerseys worn in successful finals, with the medals alongside them. By contrast, another who can’t be named said that one medal was left behind the bar where he worked for a year or so.
It’s not just a modern thing, either. Back in 1989, Kerry football star Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston donated his seven All-Ireland medals to the People in Need telethon. Cork-born businessman Tim Mahony, the head of Toyota Ireland, won the auction with a bid for IR£25,000 and immediately offered them back to the legendary full-forward, but Liston was somewhat non-plussed.
Liston’s team-mate Páidí Ó Sé shared the record of eight senior All-Ireland football medals with county colleagues Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy, Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran and Ger Power and now seven Dublin players – Stephen Cluxton, Michael Fitzsimons, Philly McMahon, Kevin McManamon, James McCarthy, Cian O’Sullivan and Michael Dara Macauley.
When photographer Don MacMonagle met Páidí in Ventry before the 2011 All-Ireland final against Dublin for a portrait to go with an opinion piece, he asked him where the medals were:
“His answer came as something of a surprise: ‘In a ‘USA’ box under my mother’s bed!’ he laughed,” MacMonagle wrote.
“He went upstairs in his mother’s house and duly produced this rusty USA biscuit tin cluttered with medals, a lifetime achievement in sport cuddled together in a cookie box."
Back in 2013, it emerged after a tweet by Conor Cusack that the Cork panel which won the Munster title seven years previously – the county’s most recent provincial title at the time – had still yet to receive their medals.
While the manager of that team, John Allen, had made efforts on behalf of the panel to get the medals presented in the interim, nothing had happened. The medals were made – the Munster Council had had them produced – but Cork County Board had not presented them. Thankfully, Cusack’s flagging of the situation helped to get things sorted.