LOCKERROOM: We have a huge problem in the GAA. How to accommodate the existence of money around amateur games
THIS IS rugby country. Guinness says it is and Guinness is one of the few institutions left to us which has any credibility. What an ad. Fishermen. Farm folk. Cleaners. Supermarket employees. The very seed stock of the Irish rugby world, all staring proudly and defiantly at the camera, thinking hard about patriotism while wearing their bold green jerseys.
It’s so ludicrous and overblown that it reminds me of Guinness’ hurling ads in the mid 1990s. Not men but giants. Ludicrous. Overblown. Brilliant. What hype should be.
Makes me regret not rounding up and extraditing all those godbotherers and pioneers who moaned endlessly about a drinks company sponsoring the GAA. Makes me regret Guinness riding off on the zeitgeist and getting behind rugby.
We have a huge problem in the GAA. How to accommodate the existence of money around amateur games. How to promote those games so there is a sufficient inflow of money to secure the future of those games.
We just don’t know what to do. We have men worrying their lives away in Croke Park about other men getting paid to coach our games in clubs and counties, while elsewhere in the same stadium we have players receiving sums of €1,000 and up from sponsors just to utter complete banalities at dreary little press conferences. They do this after photo opportunities which involve the players getting into their county jerseys and smiling vacantly at the camera as they join in the tricky task of holding a football. God help us.
Why is the Gael so allergic to hype?
Why is he so embarrassed by and afraid of it. Why is it beyond the powers of WikiLeaks to extract even team line-ups for Sunday games, let alone decent feature interviews.
Why has every GAA player who has been a bit different, a bit more individual (Jayo, Ciarán McDonald, Seán Óg, Paul Galvin, Donal Óg, Johnny Pilkington) been subject to suspicion and often hostility.
There’s not one in that list who couldn’t have been a brilliant selling point for the games they played. How can we have fellas such as Eddie Brennan and Michael Kavanagh walking about the place in almost complete anonymity when they have seven All-Ireland medals won on the field of play? Why has RTÉ got no GAA magazine on its TV schedule?
Look at Brian O’Driscoll. You can’t but.
Every ad break now there he is bursting into a public toilet and asking lads if they are up for it, surprising innocents at the hand basin with his challenge to sample the glide over the old tug and pull. Nothing George Michael about it. Pure Drico. Keeps the brand up there. Keeps rugby out there.
The GAA has to decide how it is going to get through the next decade and how it is going to cope with the challenge from rugby.
In fairness, the GAA is good at this sort of thing and if it comes to the game late it will at least come with a coherent game plan.
In a competition between the GAA and the cockroach I’d bet my money on the GAA surviving further into a nuclear winter, but it’s time to get moving. One suspects, though, that as the world crumbles around us the GAA has to do something boldly counterintuitive. To spend some money and make a bit of noise.
The four instalments of Dublin’s Spring Series will be a fascinating study in the potential of the games. Somebody with a brain and a large set of carraigs has come up with the novel idea of making the National League fun. Making it an event. Double-headers and cramming good entertainment into the gap between the games. And keeping the costs down to keep the foot fall high.
It deserves to succeed for so many reasons.
For Vodafone, whose commercial, narrated by Seán Boylan, has been the best GAA promotion of the last five years. For Allianz, who have stuck with a competition which all too often has been treated with disdain by those playing and organising it.
For the Dublin County Board, who have put a whole lot on the line. For those parents who will never be able to bring their kids to an event in the Aviva.
For those Dublin fans who need to prove that they aren’t a migratory species.
And for the GAA which needs to get past its suspicion of hype. The men who gathered in the billiard room in Hayes Hotel won’t spin in their graves if the GAA goes out and hustles.
Personally, I love all that stuff. Did you know that in the early days of baseball massive Bull Durham (tobacco) signs were a feature of every ball park. So immense were they that they created a nice shaded area where relief pitchers would go to warm up. Which led to the creation of the term bullpen for the area in which pitchers warm up. Which kept the Bull Durham thing alive in the popular imagination right through till 1988 when Ron Shelton made a low-budget film called Bull Durham which made enough money to earn a breakthrough for the sport on the big screen.
There followed a whole slew of movies (Stealing Home, Field of Dreams, Major League, Mr Baseball, The Fan, Hardball, Fever Pitch, Perfect Game, Rookie of the Year, to name a small fraction) which for free re-enforced baseball’s place in the American consciousness. (Where is the great movie or novel in Irish life which reflects how deeply ingrained our games are to our sense of ourselves?)
There is talk (exciting for me anyway) that Vodafone are looking at promotions to add to the sense of occasion in Croke Park through the Spring Series. Great stuff.
One of the joys of American sport is the hustle. People catapulting free T-shirts up into the stands. The One Million Dollar Supershot at basketball games. Best Seat in the House promotions where the winner and friend get to sit in large armchairs with serfs bringing free food all during the next game.
Minor league basketball fans were once invited to make a paper plane from the centerpages of their game programme (each one had its unique serial number) and to throw the airplane down in the hope of getting it through the sun roof of a car. The winner got to keep the car. I’ve seen Madison Square Garden or United Centre go crazy in the final quarter of a dull, one-sided game because everybody is going to get a free slice of pizza if the home side wins by 20 points or more.
In the years which we call BC (Before Cowell), American sports were holding sportscaster contests to find the new Marty Morrissey. Imagine contestants commentating on the mini league half-time games and advancing by means of popular acclaim to commentate against winners from other counties. It could actually be, ehm, fun.
From Barnum to Tex Rickard to Ali and beyond, pro sport has always sought to be fun, always looked to create a sense of the mythical, always hustled to get the punter through the turnstile, the kid into little leagues. Just because the GAA is an amateur body is no excuse for po-faced abstinence, no reason not to take the public imagination by the collar.
The next few weeks are a step in the right direction. Rugby has raised the bar.
The GAA has to find its confidence, get down to the fairground and start barking.