Rory Fellowes

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The Irish Sense Of Community 4

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I’m not a sports fan. I never have been. I used to enjoy playing games when I was at school, especially rugby in the rain, the hysterical camaraderie of a late scrum, when you’re all slimeballs of slick mud, slithering into and over each other, almost choking with laughter. I expect professionals are a little more sober. Writing it down, it sounds mildly homo-erotic, and probably it was (is).

I just don’t get the level of dedication of some of the fans, in fact it seems to be the majority. Their absolute emotional connection to the fortune of their teams. These days, if you own a television or go into pubs or stay in hotels, you can’t avoid sport, and you learn to understand what’s going on. You watch all the prominent sports and quite a few of the less popular, even if only on the News. And it has to be said there are some genuinely magical moments, things never to be repeated in nature, extraordinary, or at least unattainable feats of skill. I think of those two flip over backwards goals that were scored this season (2012), Wayne Rooney and that Swedish chap. Spontaneous, a Zen like understanding of space and time, what would for anyone else be a fluke, but you know these guys have given this situation some thought and practice. (I think Rooney’s was better. Like a bullet, straight to the back of the net – GOAL!!). Others will think of golf, or snooker, or some other game of ball control. Such moments are as unique and sublime as to have the force of art or music. The thing about art and music is that it can be repeated, or re-looked at, over and over again without benefit of Youtube. Perhaps what sport also offers is the unknown, the thrill of possibility, the potential to blow your socks off yet again. But I’m still not sure it is worth the airtime it gets on radio and television and pub conversation. There’s more to life, you want to say (or possibly scream).

I used to think the British fans were pretty bonkers, but Ireland, is a whole other story… The Irish are sports mad. And I mean close to certifiable. When that Frenchman cheated Ireland out of the World Cup in South Africa a couple of years ago or so, there were people phoning in to the radio pundits to say the economy would have recovered more quickly if the goal had been disallowed and Ireland won. There is a faith in the socio-political power of sport that I have never come across before (though I have yet to visit South America. Maybe I’d learn different there).

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In Irish sports fandom, where every sport you can imagine has a following, there is a core dedication, the very heart of the Irish worship of sport and sports news. It is the Gaelic Athletics Association; the GAA as it is familiarly known. As I quoted in an earlier blog, a recent advertising campaign for the GAA stated “You don’t choose your club. You’re born into it.” 

Sport in the GAA is more than a game; it is history; it is politics; it is almost a religion, except that, instead of God at its heart, and as every Irish man, woman and child knows perfectly well (despite signs to the contrary), there is only a game. 

What I admire most about the GAA is that it is the only sporting organisation of international stature (if you include all the clubs in the Irish Diaspora) that remains entirely amateur. With the money they make off TV and such, they support the clubs financially, but nothing goes to the players in match fees. It’s rather magnificent in these venal times, where everything has a price and no-one really knows the value anymore. In the GAA, they do know, and reckon it to be as much as they value all that they hold sacred.

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