Much commentary upon the GAA has, of late, focused upon the unfortunate approach of many players and supporters towards the more unsavoury incidents that occur during and after games. Incidents such as diving, off-the-ball-blocks, sledging and petulant excuse-making have garnered headlines and provided opportunity for complaint. However, they could also provide an opportunity for reflection. So why has the GAA, as an organisation, evolved into what it is today?
I suggest that what we are witnessing within the association is symptomatic of a more general malaise that has become increasingly prevalent within Irish society as a whole; that of ‘Free Stateism’.
Students of Irish history will be aware of the nature of the Free State mind. It is one based upon treachery and selfishness; an attitude that cares only about the well-being of some, as evidenced by the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of Nationalists to the abuses of a Colonial Regime after Partition. It could be described as 26 counties Capitalism.
Maximize profit, regardless of consequence. Ruthless ambition, regardless of consequence. Success at all costs, regardless of consequence. It is a dog-eat-dog psychology.
When the Free State membership of the GAA, at the behest of the hierarchy, decided in 2001 to abolish Rule 21 against the wishes of the majority of the membership within the Occupied Six Counties (OSC), Free Stateism had reared its ugly head. Principles, and indeed morals, gradually became collateral damage, as such an egocentric psychology assumed ever greater control. It was at this time that the GAA moved steadily and strongly from its original position as a community based sporting and cultural organisation into a, primarily, commercial enterprise.
Whilst in society we witnessed the increase of greed and selfishness, epitomized by the hollow Celtic Tiger, so too on the field of play we began to see an increase in unsporting conduct. This callous approach was, and is, also to be found within the ofttimes mercenary inclinations of certain managers and associated staff.
Therefore, when young impressionable players innocently observe a Capitalist mind-set within their local communities where profit is king, and when they hear of managers receiving thousands in enticements, it is understandable that pride in the geansey and means of achieving a sporting victory, comes a poor second to winning, regardless of the manner in which said victory is achieved.
The cheating (and it is cheating) that occurs, which is often lauded and applauded by half-wits who should know better, will ensure a Pyrrhic victory only. The foundation stones of the GAA are being eroded by the incessant tides of profit and empty success, fostering the inevitable consequence that has seen an insatiable beast born, and which is now being fed upon principles, ethics and scruples.
Capitalism, and more specifically Free Stateism, today controls the GAA. It has dragged the association into ever more direct competition with soccer. To mutate such a noble organisation into a ‘socceresque’ institution will ultimately result in failure, as international appeal and larger wages will ensure that soccer triumphs.
Until Free Stateism is exorcized from the GAA, then the greed, the cheating, the focus upon commerce at the expense of community will continue unabated. Eventually, the Gaelic Athletic Association will become unrecognizable.
As it is, I wonder how that group of visionaries, who met in Hayes Commercial Hotel almost 133 years ago, would feel about the endeavour they began and what it has now become. But then again, the same question could be asked of the Church. Sadly, we are a nation of disappointing parallels.