Belfast Telegraph

Give States a break: Our fundraising hurting US game

By Declan Bogue

Sitting facing out the window of an eighth floor hotel room in Boston on the All-Stars weekend seems as good a place as any to contemplate the odd relationship that GAA has with America and - crucially - its money.

There was a time not so long ago when Ireland was a financial basket case, kept afloat by the generosity of the Diaspora who would send money home from America and Britain. Such contributions kept body and soul together for many families.

In the modern age, various strands of the GAA have never truly got out of the habit. The Association is cash rich, but individual units can never have enough money, therefore resorting to what Gabriel Byrne might accurately term as 'shakedowns'.

Fundraising drives in the States have become commonplace.

Indeed, those county boards that are not tapping into the generosity of their exiled cousins are beginning to look almost negligent of their duties. However, this kind of opportunism comes with a price elsewhere.

Earlier this year, one football county who are habitually at the business end of the All-Ireland race held a dinner in New York. It was the usual affair as you might expect, white linen cloths, silver service, eye-watering prices. They mobilised the investment bankers and gold chain brigade before giving them a good hosing.

They took something in the region of €300,000 home with them.

Some concerned figures in New York GAA made a discreet enquiry if the next fundraiser could be held off for a year or two. You don't need me to tell you what kind of a response they got back.

It's not just county boards either. The GPA have come in for recent high-profile criticism for trawling around America, picking up donations here and there for their work in player welfare.

You might applaud their audacity and their chutzpah, but it can drain resources from the local clubs, who already are engaged in a financial arms race to get the biggest and best players over for the summer.

The great shame about this is while county boards are sucking on the teat of America, an investment in grassroots could have a spectacular effect on the GAA where I am sitting.

Take the All-Stars game on Saturday, at the Irish Centre in Canton. It was played between the 2013 and 2014 All-Star football teams but it bore no resemblance to Gaelic football as a spectacle. And by the way, that's fair enough at the end of a hard season for all the players.

The curtain-raiser however, was a typically feisty meeting of Boston and New York, with the Big Apple needing a late flurry of scores to salvage a draw. Belts were given and returned in that way that all familiar with exile football would recognise and the skill levels were impressive.

The next step for growing the GAA in New York and New England is home-grown players.

This may not be far away if the American experience of Tyrone man Lawrence Kirk is anything to go by. When he left Greencastle for New York in 1980, he went 25 years without watching or playing Gaelic football. The fortunes of Tyrone and their first two All-Irelands almost completely passed him by.

However, now that his youngest son is 11, he has been brought right back into the GAA fold. He was in a party of Shannon Gaels club members down in Boston for the weekend.

He told me that playing little league soccer came at the extortionate price of $400 per annum per child. But when his son went to play and train with Shannon Gaels, there was no cost. Therefore he and other parents are inclined to make a contribution. It makes for an incredibly progressive club, staffed with capable people.

The other day, GAA President Liam O'Neill addressed the situation of county boards who bring collection plates with them on tour.

"It happened in London where London are developing Ruislip. We have ongoing developments in Philadelphia, starting developments in Pittsburgh, Buffalo. I would prefer if the GAA supporters in those areas would support the local rather than the home-based ones," he said.

He also acknowledged he is copping heat from clubs who spend money bringing out players from Ireland to bolster chances in the championships.

"It's not going down well in New York..."

You would be hard-pressed to please New York, who have often operated as a lone wolf.

But for their good, and the globalisation of Gaelic games, Croke Park need to put a halt to the giant booster clubs. The pain they think they feel, will only be weakness leaving the body.

 

If you think I prefer American attitude to sport, then dream on

A little boy walked out of the TD Garden in Boston on Sunday, wearing a Celtics cap, excitedly skipping along while holding his father's hand.

"This has been the awesomest day, Dad!" he squealed. It was touching. It was also contrary to most single sporting experiences I, and I suspect you, ever had at that age.

For a start, the Celtic were beaten on Sunday on a scoreline of 111-89 by the defending NBA champions San Antonio Spurs. By the middle of the third quarter they essentially calved.

By the fourth quarter, almost by common consent between the two managers, the dross was sent on to take the place of the likes of the sports superstars such as Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Rajon Rondo. Neither team made too much of an effort, but the home side were atrocious.

Later, while repairing to a local hostelry to slake their thirst, the gathering of GAA journalists (the collective noun for this, by the way, is a 'bitch' of journalists) made wise cracks about the Celtics "needing to get some of that good minor team through", and capitalising on "the good work that is going on at grassroots and development squads."

Because the NBA season takes in over 80 games in the regular season, there are so many games like this that are mere processions. With eight teams in each conference going through to play-offs, no wonder the fatalism and sheer defeatism of the Celtics is understandable. Yet at the end, there were nothing but happy faces. Perhaps the Americans have it right, and they treat one of their most popular sports as entertainment, but by God, does it not feel odd.

The ongoing sideshows, presents dropped out of the skies, cheerleaders and various other accoutrements serve only to distract the paying fan.

With no relegation, the Celtics slide haplessly down the table. In fact, it would make more sense for them to finish rock bottom instead of pulling together a run up the table, as they move up the pecking order of the player draft.

So children get to leave the Garden clutching their father's hand, sharing a moment that will live forever with both of them.

My own memories are slightly different. Most days, you were walking out of grounds traumatised by defeat. The adults would raise all sorts of agonised questions about the pointlessness of it all. You daren't mention sweeties.

And yet for all that, I prefer our way of doing things. I suspect you do too.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph