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14 April 2005 Edition

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Rule 42 - Pride and Prejudice

BY Matt Treacy

Croke Park

Croke Park

I am at a stage in life where I have very few prejudices left. I have gone drinking with members of the Progressive Democrats. I have listened to U2 with only a nervous twitch to reveal my feelings towards Bobo (sic). I have listened politely while people from Kildare talk about football. I have read Roddy Doyle. I even nod along to Ireland's Call.

All I ask is to be left one tiny prejudice as a comfort blanket. Retain Rule 42!

It all began when I was an impressionable young lad. Myself and my brother would be watching The Big Match (English soccer) on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes my grandmother would arrive to the house, and once settled and realising the sort of filth we were watching, would change the channel. We would then watch some film that featured chaps in tights and wait to hear how the Dublin hurlers had gotten on in Tulla. They invariably got on badly. Pinning one's hopes on the fortunes of the Dublin hurling team is a far more effective means to destroy one's illusions in the material world than Zen meditation.

My grandmother passed her prejudices on to me, of course — proof of Conor Cruise O'Brien's theory that the "hatred of all things English" is carried by the female gene! Except that it had nothing to do with being "anti-English". It was all about being in favour of our own things, and that included our sports.

That was far from popular in Dublin at one stage. Cross-channel television and the glamour of Manchester United and Liverpool and Leeds (hard to believe now, I know!) was causing huge damage to the GAA in the city. We have the Dublin team of the 1970s to thank for reversing that, but there is still huge rivalry for the allegiance of young boys and girls between the Association and soccer.

The other factor, of course, has been the massive change in the image of the GAA. Gone are the days when ten-year-olds would be running about in jerseys down to their ankles. Gone are the days when people looked on hurling and football as some kind of savage behaviour.

And of course the centre of it all — the citadel of the Association — is the magnificent stadium in Dublin 3. And its satellites are the hundreds of excellent facilities across the length and breadth of the country — from Fintona to Finglas, from Bellaghy to Baile an Geire.

To my mind it would be utter madness to open up any of these to rival sports, even on a short-term basis. Because as sure as night follows day, the leasing of Croke Park for a limited number of internationals would be followed by further pressure and more ranting from anti-national elements for the GAA to run an open house.

The main argument will be that soccer internationals may have to be played in Wales. That is not the fault of the GAA. Why is no one putting that to the FAI? What have they done with the enormous sums they have taken in over the past 20 years? It certainly, unlike the GAA, does not go to support small struggling soccer clubs, who by the way are doing excellent work in many places to provide sport for young people. Opening Croke Park will not help them.

For my grandmother, Croke Park meant more than a place where she went to see matches. During the Tan War, when Dublin was under terror, it was the place where the GAA organised matches to raise money for the prisoners and to provide the Irish Republican Army with the means of resistance. This was at the same time that the Union Jack was flying over Lansdowne Road.

It was at one of those games between Dublin and Tipperary that the Brits arrived and opened fire on the players and spectators. They killed 14 people, including one of the Tipp players, Michael Hogan, after whom the Hogan Stand is named. The attack was in revenge for the virtual wiping out of the Dublin Castle Cairo Gang by the Dublin Brigade ASU, one of whom was married to my grandmother's sister.

I have reminded others of this and they have said that it is irrelevant to the debate on Rule 42. I demur. The GAA is part of the national movement. That movement, which includes the Republican Movement and those working for the language and music, is dedicated to preserving and strengthening Irish culture and Irish pride in that culture.

The GAA, in common with the others, has been responsible for reversing to a large degree the effects of the cultural imperialism that seemed poised to destroy those things at the end of the 19th Century. The sole responsibility of the Association is to the games under its purview. Let it maintain that by rejecting any change to Rule 42.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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