Belfast Telegraph

Davy Fitz needs to be reminded, it's only a ball game

By Declan Bogue

The good ladies who serve the tea for referees and poor downtrodden journalists at McQuillan Park, Ballycastle, don't think much of Health and Safety jobsworths.

There I was on Sunday, trading idle chit chat over the steaming vats of coffee and tea, when I broached the subject of the Ould Lammas Fair.

On a scorching Bank Holiday in 1993, my grandfather brought myself and cousin Peter Kelly on an Ulsterbus, all of 105 miles from Tempo, to see the attractions of Dulse and Yellow Man.

We stopped in Clogher to pick up another group and a 'character' got on board. The type that had a sweet tooth for porter and would keep you in chat all the way there and back.

He told my grandfather - a horse racing fanatic with zero interest in the GAA - all about the invincible hardy men of Derry and their "cute wee buck" manager Eamonn Coleman, who were on their way to win the All-Ireland.

At the fair, I bought a bootleg cassette tape of U2's 'Zooropa' album.

Peter bought some silly string. He was younger.

Granda bought a cone and admired the horses.

Clogher man bought himself a white and red baseball cap that read 'Derry' on the front when he got back on the bus, but 'Derr' by the time he got off, the 'Y' falling foul of the wilting heat.

Anyway, the fair is all different now, say the Ballycastle tea ladies.

"The square used to be the heart of the Fair. But now, the Health and Safety ones have insisted that all the stalls be spread out up and down the streets. It's not like it used to be," said one. Not much is.

I don't know if you have ever watched a game of hurling in Ballycastle, but the open-back lorry trailer on Sunday served as probably the most spectacularly pretty pressbox I have ever been in.

Even the most dedicated of hurling nerds would find their eyes straying beyond the action on the pitch towards the majesty of Fair Head.

It's a wonder the Health and Safety crowd have not moved onto sports like hurling. With all that timber flying and lack of padding, enjoy this spectacle while it's around. We could all be without it in a few years' time.

That's if the killjoy attitude that has taken a grip on inter-county action doesn't destroy everything good about our sports in the meantime. I refer to the amusing spectacle in Clare hurling and hold it up as an exhibit of when sport becomes a vehicle for the ego of a few individuals.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a book entitled 'No Cheering In The Press Box', which shared the recollections of a generation of sports writers from the Golden Age of American sports, pre-World War II.

One of the writers - John R Tunis - attended Harvard, where he roomed across the corridor from one Joe Kennedy, the Patriarch of a future political dynasty.

He wrote a book entitled 'Was College Worthwhile?' which earned him a cold shoulder from his college buddies, after he claimed that the three goals for a Harvard student was to break 80 on the golf course, vote the Republican ticket and get a Harvard degree.

He also rejected the importance of competition and professionalism in sport which drove an insatiable appetite for success at the expense of courtesy and manners.

Another writer, Red Smith, put it even better: "I've always tried to remember… that sports isn't Armageddon. These are just little games that little boys play, and it really isn't important to the future of civilisation whether the Athletics or the Browns win."

In Clare over the past fortnight, one of their former players, Davy O'Halloran, decided that his life would not be lived solely to please his county manager Davy Fitzgerald, who he alleged imposed a number of punishments upon him and a team-mate.

You have probably heard of them by now, but they included not being able to speak to their team-mates and not being able to participate in training sessions, instead having to do intense physical training by themselves away from the group.

Their crime? Socialising at night in a public place. Were they drinking? No. Were they breaking curfew? Considering they were injured and not in contention for action, hardly.

Apparently out of nowhere, the Clare panel then released a statement, saying that they are all happy with life and want to continue doing their best for Clare hurling.

The public can decide upon their motivations for doing such a thing, of course.

Fitzgerald and Clare might win another All-Ireland, and there will be a string of clowns queueing up to tells us that the end justified the means.

But it never does. Everyone loses a little.

Belfast Telegraph

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