9 November 2006 Edition
The Matt Treacy Column
Throw out the dog's dinner
The Dublin county football final was a strange affair. Played under lights last Monday because of delays caused by appeals and postponements to fit in with the International Rules farce - more of which anon - it still managed to draw one of the biggest crowds of recent years.
Its strangeness was caused by the fact that at least 95% of the near capacity attendance were there to support St. Vincents. For many of us that was a rather odd situation in which to find ourselves as the Vinnies would not be particularly popular among the adherents of other Dublin clubs. And that indeed would be putting it charitably.
Much of that would have to do with Vincent's historical dominance of the Dublin scene and let's just say that they were never particularly subtle in regards to how they retained that predominance over 30 years. As a 12 or 13-year-old I remember some of the lads on our team being challenged to produce birth certificates because they were big for their age. This prior to an Under-14 league match. And one of those demanding them was then a household name, and a hero to us as followers of the Dubs.
But the Vinnies have fallen on hard times. Amazingly, for a club that won 24 senior football titles in 36 years, they have not won it since 1984. That in itself would not be sufficient to earn them sympathy as the county title remains the Holy Grail for all clubs and one that few have attained.
Rather what was at issue is that Vincents were playing against UCD. To say that UCD are disliked by Dublin GAA folk would be a gross understatement. They are not a club in the proper sense and the general perception of them is that they are comprised of scholarship students, all of whom have inter-county experience, who have been head-hunted by the UCD Sports Department to boost its prestige.
The nonsense of them participating in a club competition is illustrated by the fact that they compete at senior inter county level in the O'Byrne Cup in football and the Walsh Cup in hurling. A competition that they won in 2005, beating Kilkenny in the final! And yet Dublin hurling clubs, which might be lucky enough to have two or three county players, were expected to compete with them on level terms until they decided to withdraw in a huff this year. They were not missed.
Given the current amount of resources being pumped into Colleges GAA, in a manner not unlike American Colleges football, and the fact that college players are to all intents and purposes full-time athletes, their importance within the association will continue to grow. Which is all very well and good but that should not be at the expense of genuine clubs.
Vincent's importance to their community was underlined by the procession of people in blue and white along the Malahide Road. Among them legendary figures like Jimmy Keaveney but more importantly hundreds of children with their faces painted and their eyes gleaming and many of them carrying the hurling sticks they had brought with them to training earlier in the evening.
Unfortunately the bright eyes were dimmed by half nine as they trooped forlornly away, some of them pausing to commiserate on the pitch with their heroes like Mossy and other fellas they will see again at the weekend when they take them out to matches. Their fallen heroes. But only for a short while, until the next ball is thrown in and the next training cones set out for eager little feet.
And they left a deserted Parnell Park to the UCD players, their large and well-paid backroom team that would be the envy of professional Irish soccer clubs, and maybe 100 students and family and friends. Let's hope it means as much to them as it would the little boys and girls of Vinnies.
Somehow I doubt it, and now one of their stars Niall McNamee will pocket his second county championship of the year and return to his own club Rhode in Offaly for the Leinster competition. Unfortunately the surreal sight of him simultaneously lining out for both should they meet, which will happen if UCD beat Wolfe Tones of Meath on Sunday, is precluded by the rules. A pity because it would be a fitting reducio ad absurdum.
On the subject of absurdity, that wise man Mickey Harte is increasingly looking like a prophet in his own land. Except maybe now people are starting to listen to him. Last year I echoed his sentiments regarding the mess that is 'International Rules' and he has been duly vindicated. I was going to say that 'we' have been vindicated except no-one gives a somersaulting bejaysus what I think.
I was there last Sunday and apart from having to endure the proximity of tiresome rustic bourgeois who clearly had never been at a GAA match before and who thought that you could reserve places on the Hill!, the whole occasion was disappointing. It is not a good game to watch and if we are honest with ourselves most of us weren't exactly appalled at the notion that things might 'kick off.'
And kick off they did. In grand style. There has been much hand wringing about the fistics but the plain truth is that the Aussies are just better at bashing people. Not that that's a good thing necessarily and personally I prefer boxing when it comes to watching bashing.
A bit of bashing is a part of any contact sport but in context. In the dogs dinner that is International Rules it is intrinsic and our fellas will always come off second best if it gets down to it. But that is not the main reason why the series should be scrapped.
As Harte has said, Gaelic football is a better sport to play and to watch and the GAA should be marketing it rather than the inferior pastiche that is the Rules. His idea for international club competition is a good one and ought to be pursued.
The trash heap has spoken.