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Comment: GAA must find way to host Liam Miller match but don't have to pander to critics' grotesque opportunism

By Declan Bogue

How helpful it was of Damien Duff to weigh into the controversy surrounding the tribute game for Liam Miller and the refusal of the GAA to open up Pairc Ui Chaoimh for the evening.

There's been a sense that the darling boy of Irish soccer has always had more of an edge about him than the caricature of perma-dozing tousle-haired wing wizard of his playing days, and he has been keen to shed that image with authoritative media performances and punditry.

The boul' Duffer said that those responsible for these decisions "should hang their heads in shame", adding for extra emphasis that they were "f*****g dinosaurs".

That raised a few heckles alright. In a classic of its genre, the backlash to Duff's backlash has been fierce. It would seem the average Joe doesn't care for lectures from millionaires.

It should be noted that Duff was referring to officials in charge. However, by the time it is put through the news spin cycle, crunched through the Twitter machine and dried out on the washing line of click-bait, it comes out looking as if he was saying it about the GAA in general. That's not his fault, but some people will have wondered who exactly is the dinosaur here.

Is it the club president who has put 50 years of his life into his parish club? Admittedly his taste in cardigans might need a review, but…

The club chairman, juggling a business, family and the time-consuming enterprise of what keeps his village humming along?

The ladies that make sandwiches and serve tea after a funeral, when the local GAA club has opened its doors?

Throughout this controversy it has been tempting to think of Aesop's Fable of The North Wind and the Sun, and the attitude of GAA officialdom to being told what to do.

The North Wind and The Sun had a competition to take a coat off a man walking. But no matter how tumultuous the storm, the man gripped tighter to his coat.

When the sun shone its rays, the man rested by a shaded spot and took his coat off.

It would be fanciful to believe that the GAA, with its in-built suspicions, would ever fall for fake flattery, but certainly when there is a storm of criticism, they tend to pull the coat tighter and look inwardly.

Hence the hideous decision to consult legal advice as one of their first avenues to make sure they were not in any way obliged by a Government grant to host this charity event.

Why is this rule in place? It might be worth recapping that when Rule 42 was removed, it was in the national interest, to help the FAI and IRFU out while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped.

It only applied for international games, though was extended in order to host Munster and Leinster to play rugby games that had mass appeal.

There is still that discretion for Croke Park, and the addendum was added that would have applied to county grounds for the unsuccessful bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

A motion to make all county grounds open to other sports was taken to GAA Annual Congress in 2016. It was soundly defeated, with 77% of the vote.

The reason for that comes down to simple business competition.

Why would the GAA allow Connacht Rugby to grow their fanbase by offering Pearse Stadium in Salthill?

Why, indeed, should professional bodies profit off the back of volunteer effort?

The problem for the GAA from the moment the ball was thrown in, was a spectacularly ill-judged public relations operation. It appeared haughty and cold.

We touched on this last week in terms of promoting the games, but this was a disaster that found new levels to explore.

While there has been considerable PR damage, what of the public opinion of the GAA?

The question that will hang over this affair is just how much damage has been self-inflicted by the GAA, or how much of it is imagined.

In a year's time, there will be little talk of this game, wherever it ends up being played.

But Gaelic Games will most certainly be continuing, providing a framework for children to grow up in a healthy, positive environment with role models available in every parish. There is no point listing the various social initiatives of the GAA because the entire operation is a social initiative.

While successive Governments failed to provide leisure facilities, the GAA provided them. Rural Ireland would be a wasteland without the necklace of clubs joining one place to another.

And those that have used this opportunity to criticise the GAA, and there has been some grotesque opportunism involved, will not be putting the hands up to make 80-mile round trips with a busload of children to play hurling, or take on the headaches of organising a summer camp.

Morally, the GAA have to pander to nobody. But as Joe Brolly articulated on The Sunday Game with great clarity, this is not a competing sport. This is a charitable venture, for a much-loved local man.

That's why, no matter how the climb-down looks like it is being made 'through gritted teeth', there must be a way found to host this game, embrace the cause and show off the new stadium.

Belfast Telegraph

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