Since I attended my first hurling final in 1971 I’ve only missed a handful and, regardless of the finalists, I generally savour this week.
Traditionally, the last week of August heralded the start of autumn and the All Ireland Hurling Final was a date ‘etched in stone’, usually followed by Listowel Races, the Ploughing and the Football Final.
The dates of Listowel and the ploughing championships might vary a little, but the first Sunday in September equates to one thing only. Since 1930 there have been only two occasions, 1941 and 1956, that later dates were used.
Cork bridged a ten-year gap in 1941 when defeating Dublin on September 28 — an outbreak of ‘Foot and Mouth’ disease caused the delay in scheduling the final.
Cork were also involved in the 1956 final, played on September 23. Christy Ring was bidding to win a ninth All Ireland Senior medal that day but Wexford won by six points. The delay in playing that was down to an outbreak of polio in Munster.
I know we use the word ‘sacred’ too frequently but I often use it in regards to something I personally think is very important and the All Ireland Hurling Final is such an event.
You could say in reality that with nearly nine decades the GAA has created a brand, an image for the biggest hurling game of the year, and now they’ve thrown it all away with the decision to abandon that Sacred September Sunday slot in favour of an August date.
Since I joined the GAA around 1970, I have been branded a conservative — a title that is well justified. I like history — the stories of old that have made us what we are in terms of culture and sport. Unfortunately, many people brand conservatives like me as ‘old fashioned’, ‘living in the past’, etc. None of that name- calling ever causes me to lose sleep but I do wonder sometimes at the GAA’s innate ability to veer towards self-destruction.
We have wonderful games, especially hurling — the fastest field game in the world bar none. As an amateur organisation, we pride ourselves in doing things for the good of the GAA, not just for making money.
Now don’t get me wrong, money makes the Gaelic games world go round and we need resources to keep clubs and county boards going. In recent years, however, I feel that money seems more important than the games, the traditions and especially the grassroots members.
This year we’ve had marvellous, absolutely brilliant hurling games. It’s been the best and most evenly contested championship with years. At the start of the year at least a dozen teams had a realistic chance of winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup and next Sunday (barring a draw) either Waterford or Galway will bridge decades of seeking hurling’s Holy Grail.
Wexford aren’t in the final but they lit up the championship. The most outstanding performance of 2017, in my humble opinion, was when they beat Kilkenny in the Leinster championship. That was a thriller of a game, but who saw it? Wexford Park was a sell out and as a result of a previous GAA ‘sell-out’, only those with tickets and satellite television got to see the game.
It’s a few years now since the GAA decided to sell broadcasting rights for certain games each year. So if you want to view these games you pay to do so. At the time the GAA said ‘It’s not about money, it’s to stream the games to the Irish diaspora all over the world’. What a joke, but in fairness, we in the GAA are absolutely nearly democratic.
The diaspora is a new name for what were once termed ‘the wild geese’ — those who had to leave our native shores for economic reasons. I know all about them as each year I’m in contact with scores of them and their families in far-flung parts of the world. I know too how important a link with home Gaelic games are to those Irish abroad.
Providing them with certain games whilst denying hundreds of thousands at home makes no sense — except economic sense.
The GAA are brilliant at spending resources at club level but, lads, it’s not all about money, or is it?
Now, 1984 was an important year — the founding of the GAA was marked, Centenary Year we deemed it. At the other side of the world, Kim Jong Un was born, so the North Korean leader is just a hundred years younger than the GAA. He’s a despotic dictator but well able to put on a show — like at his father’s funeral in 2011. Millions of his ‘fans’ lined every street and road in the country and they crying their eyes out, wailing and keening to beat the band.
They had little choice really as any person with a dry eye in the house, street or road was branded a traitor.
If the GAA policy of spreading the ‘GAA Gospel’ far and wide by multi- media works well, we could have a North Korean team in the hurling final by 2084 when we celebrate the bi-centenary of the GAA. September would never suit them though in that neck of the woods. That’s the month when they are at their busiest — back to school, harvesting, practising their crying skills and getting more atomic bombs ready.
I’ll tell ye, I wouldn’t care to be the referee if them lads were involved. One ‘wrong’ decision and bang boom — there would be no need for the GAA’s CCCC or DRA!
I was just thinking there, the GAA say destroying tradition by moving the hurling final from the first Sunday of September is to help with club fixtures! If you believe that, you’ll swallow anything.
Are the dark arts at play here in the hallowed decision-making halls of Croke Park? By bringing the hurling final to August, are we simply paving the way for the North Korean Gaels to play in the final in the future?
Am I being cynical? Who, me, a long time card-carrying Gael — never. Forward planning is a hallmark of the GAA in its latest 40 year Hurling Development Plan.
Please God, I’ll be in Croke Perk next Sunday. I will remember in particular Joe McDonagh and his 1980 impromptu version of Mallow man Thomas Davis’s The West’s Awake. What a hurler, what a GAA President and what a character the Ballinderreen man was. I heard him singing 37 years ago from ’midst the Galway crowd on Hill 16. Could I be so brave or foolish to parody that great rousing song?
When all around the GAA is asleep
When tradition lies in slumber deep
Alas and well may hurling weep
That olden things we no longer keep
There profit on us smiles fair and free
‘Mid corporate ‘suits’ in luxury
But hark a voice like thunder spake
The grassroots at last are wide awake.
Thankfully, the Pope has intervened in this change of date debacle. Pope Francis has announced that the World meeting of Families will be held in Dublin at the end of August next year. In order to avoid a massive clash of fixtures, the GAA has wisely decided to leave the 2018 Hurling Final occupy its traditional First Sunday of September.
At least that gives us GAA ‘old fashioned’ members an extra chance to persuade the powers that be to stop changing for the sake of change. The GAA has very few ‘core principles’ left, surely something should be sacred to us.
May the best team win on Sunday and c’mon Cork in the Minor Final.