Belfast Telegraph

Game in good shape with endless criticism wearing thin

By Declan Boogue

It was a proud weekend in the Bogue household. On Saturday, my Godson Ross made his confirmation. The extended family went out for a meal before I cut it short to dash to Omagh to report on the Derry-Tyrone game.

Those duties taken care of, and having shown my face at Sunday morning training, Ross and I attended the Fermanagh v Tipperary game as fans. No notebooks, no free counts, just a boy and his uncle going to cheer on their county. Bliss.

He's growing into the games. A fortnight ago we watched the hurlers' defeat to Finglas at the same venue and as a young player, he recently had some complimentary words written about him in a match report. One of his selectors - Tom Brewster, no less - had a quick word with him as he made his way into the gates before the game.

At this point, he's probably hooked on it.

The Fermanagh performance helped, mind you. In the second half, Richie O'Callaghan's high-fielding was reminiscent of Neil Gallagher in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork. Whenever goalkeeper Thomas Treacy would hoof the ball downfield to O'Callaghan, Ross let out a shout of encouragement: "Get up, ye boy ye!"

After I had left him home, he spent the evening recreating the action at Brewster Park in front of the fireplace.

This is his induction. My own came through my mother's camogie career.

She played for Enniskillen for years and then formed St Matthew's, a team four miles outside of town with merely a crossroads as the focal point. Her parents were on the county camogie board and sponsored one of the Championships.

Long before there were County Development Coaches, she got a grant from the Fermanagh District Council to spin around the primary schools of the county in a yellow Datsun Cherry hatchback. The boot was weighed down with ashplants and sliotars as she introduced generations of girls and boys to camogie and hurling. When her children were available and willing, she brought them along.

Pretty much all my memories of the GAA are joyous. That might explain why I am a thoroughly mediocre 36-year-old footballer still driving 20 miles on a Sunday morning to train on a 4G surface that leaves me wincing with hip pain for a solid hour afterwards.

Now, the Association is not perfect. Football as a game is not perfect. And neither is hurling, although it's seen as sacrilege to say so.

On a macro level though, it remains a sporting wonder of the world. That's why it is so hard to stomach the sustained level of poisonous criticism that GAA leaders are under.

This constant drip-drip of negativity has become the go-to subject of uninspired commentators who realise that people are stimulated far more by conflict than they are by nuanced debate and resolution. Criticism never goes out of fashion.

Things are not helped either by the Gaelic Player's Association's compliance with the illusion that there is no upside to playing for your county. The impression they create is that every county panel is staffed by depressives and addicts. That's no more true than any other cross-section of society.

The amount of backlash afforded to the arrangement with Sky TV has reached crescendo. If we were to believe the dissenters, the hordes of middle Ireland were coming for Congress with pitchforks.

But when it was thrown open for debate on the floor? Nothing. Not a squeak of discontent, despite the recent efforts of RTE mischief makers. The Association is 131-years-old. The Sky deal is a three-year experiment. Time to park the argument.

Those who reckon that people were targeted by the party whip also need a serious dose of cop-on. This is Congress in Cavan, not a show-trial in North Korea.

Does the GAA have problems? Sure. Show us an institution of its standing that doesn't and we will accuse you of hiding something. But the GAA's problems - imbalance of club and county, refusal by some managers to factor in recovery time and others - are in view. They will be dealt with and the leadership are not ignorant of them.

I take great heart in the comment by the new GAA President, Aogan O'Fearghail, when he urged us to "stop beating ourselves up" over the state of our games.

Things are good. And they will get better. Stop beating yourself up.

Belfast Telegraph

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