Belfast Telegraph

Attacking a club is crossing us all

By Declan Bogue

This Friday night, Cian Mackey will forget that he was recently winning Man-of-the-Match awards in Croke Park against the great Kerry. Instead he will slip into the colours of his club Castlerahan as they face Redhills in the Cavan senior football Championship.

Neither club have won the Oliver Plunkett Cup. Castlerahan made it to the decider back in 2011 after qualifying through a group stages system but in the final they were given a harsh lesson by Cavan Gaels, 4-11 to 0-7.

That's just the way of it with the club. Contesting breaking ball against Paul Galvin one week, trying to roll the boulder up the mountain and reverse history the following week, alongside other players, in different colours.

The GAA is a two-headed beast. There is the world of inter-county action which can largely sustain itself inside a bubble of self-absorption, and then there is something altogether more earthy – rootsy even – with the club.

The inter-county scene is glamorous. It features a cast of individuals that you could spend days second-guessing, yet still be astounded at their next move. It is neatly-packaged on television and causes the casual viewer to be rooted to their seat, agog, while a pundit puts forward their case with outraged passion. It can lure you in with ease.

Compared to the grip that the club scene can impose though, it is merely a gateway drug.

There is a saying that originated around these parts that while the county scene may be the icing on the cake, the club environment is the cake.

Within the community, the GAA club continues to grow and expand its reach. In a post-ceasefire environment, parents of different politics and religion have become comfortable in sending their children to play Gaelic games. There is no need for a headcount on such matters, but a study of the composition of inter-county squads around the border areas would reveal much.

Encouraged by the work of the Ulster Council, clubs have felt increasingly comfortable approaching headmasters of controlled primary schools and gaining new recruits to their teams.

It has also aided those that are grouped into that horrible term; 'non-nationals'. Such as Semaco Moradi. His family fled from Iraq in 2002 and fetched up in Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim. He now lives and plays his club hurling with Thomas Davis in Dublin, but returns to play for his county and coach the sport in schools. After all, cut away all the partly-supposed, partly-imagined idealogical aims of the Association, and what we are left with is sport, plain and simple.

We are not out of the woods yet, though.

This week, the weedkiller that was spread on St Oliver Plunkett Park, the home of Crossmaglen Rangers, produced the desired effects. Words like 'scum' appeared on the dying grass. The male reproductive organ featured heavily too.

Well done to those hilarious japesters! What fun they must have had! And, best of all, it's going to cost the club anything in the region of £5,000 to £10,000 to fix.

If the perpetrators were seeking to twist the tail of a club, they picked the wrong one.

Crossmaglen epitomise stoicism. They only got the remaining portion of their ground back from the British Army in 2007 and before that, they endured decades of helicopters choosing to go out on local patrol when there was a football match in full swing. Opposing teams would stand rooted to the spot watching the big bird hovering above them while the home side would play on and grab themselves a handy score.

From Joe Kernan's time as manager, they established themselves as possibly the greatest Gaelic football club side of all time. The only other edition that bears comparison was the Nemo Rangers side of the late '70s and early '80s.

The sustaining of the GAA, in its volunteer ethos and the role it plays within communities, has been a wonder of the sporting world. Barely a wake, funeral or a wedding occurs among one of its members without the local GAA club becoming involved in some way, whether that means stewarding parking, providing premises for mourners to gather after burial, or providing a guard of honour.

We got to see the latter sight this week at the wedding of the great Derry footballer, Enda Muldoon. Standing outside Holy Trinity Church to greet him and his bride were Enda's Ballinderry Shamrocks underage team.

Damaging property belonging to a GAA club is as self-defeating as those that carry out attacks on places of worship.

On whose behalf do they do it? On yours? Mine?

Or is it what we should all expect; an expression of self-loathing?

Belfast Telegraph

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