WHAT would you have done?’ – the pointed question from my wife Alison last week, as we discussed the fallout from Monaghan’s training-breach controversy. It would be easy, like many have chosen to do, to take the moral high ground on this contentious issue.
et this somewhat sage 39-year-old, father of three, is a quite different beast to that which inhabited the pressures of an inter-county bubble for 17 seasons. I will get to my answer in a bit.
As the story about Monaghan’s now ill-fated training session broke last week, my phone lit up with media requests. In such volatile circumstances, time for reflection can often be your greatest ally. Just ask our county board chairman, Declan Flanagan. As I did the previous week regarding Dublin, I politely turned them all down. It would, however, be blatantly evasive of me to not make any comment after what has been a difficult week for the GAA.
As you read this, GAA pitches across Northern Ireland will have had their locks removed as training is once again permitted. Not a moment too soon either, as they’ll provide a welcome distraction to many of our Six Counties’ members amid the worrying social unrest across the province.
We’re all looking forward to enjoying similar privileges in the weeks to come, while it becomes increasingly difficult for clubs and counties to ‘toe the line’ by keeping off our pitches. Impatience grows and understandably so. An impatience that ultimately got the better of my own county men, who have rightly felt the wrath of what is by now a fatigued and intolerant public.
After a unanimous guilty verdict in the court of public opinion, Séamus McEnaney, Dessie Farrell, and their players will have had an uncomfortable few days since images of their illegal training sessions were made public. Surprise rather than shock, disappointment rather than scorn, have been the prevailing sentiments as social media trending subsides. Surprise in how stupidly blatant they were, but not shocked that something was going on.
Disappointment that the GAA family was pulled into the gutter, but stoic enough not to be too hypocritical in condemnation. As, after a year of tough lockdown demands, few of us are left standing with a clear conscience to report, or upon a pedestal to judge.
Everybody involved in those ill-advised training sessions will surely feel regret and embarrassment for their actions. They stand as exhibits of the pervading culture in the GAA and Irish society that often tolerates rule breaking, and seeks pardon when it serves one’s own self-interest.
We might be the ‘loveable rogue’ of Ireland Inc., but we still have a culture that desperately needs changing. If any good came out of this sorry episode, it was the immediate acknowledgment of wrongdoing and acceptance of their sanctions by the Monaghan and Dublin camps.
In these tinderbox times, such GAA controversies will always garner more attention than maybe they should. Monaghan’s breach took centre stage last Thursday, ahead of the news around one of Ireland’s Olympic sprinters being arrested on drug charges that included allowing his premises to be used in the production of crack cocaine.
Not for the first time in this pandemic, Covid complacency and lockdown fatigue have combined, leaving damaging reputational consequences. Back in October, numerous club units across the country let themselves, the association, and their communities down by their selfish off-field actions, which ultimately precipitated the halting of club activity.
Over a few short Christmas weeks, as a country we tore the proverbial rear end out of it, with our heads bowed in atonement since. Slippages that were many times worse than the open-air offenses committed last week.
Indeed, there are few remaining among us that have not had our own ‘sliding door’ Covid moment over the past year. Situations and events we knew were wrong, potentially dangerous and against guidelines, but nevertheless gave ourselves a free pass out of self-interest. If you are one of the few remaining to have a clear rap sheet on this front, I salute your resolve. However, you are a member of what is becoming a very exclusive club.
Over the past few weeks, 5km has never been so long a distance. Few ‘stay at home’ anymore, and even the most trivial of tasks are deemed ‘essential’. A higher standard and strong leadership are expected of others, however. As one of the country’s leading organisations, our revered inter-county units assume this mantle, and that’s why their breaches are so disappointing.
The altruism of the GAA family at large over the past year should not be readily forgotten, but nor should it be used as a free pass for its ill-judged actions. To coin a GAA phrase ‘You are only as good as your last game’ and to that end there is reputational damage to be repaired.
To answer my wife’s question… I cannot honestly say what I would have done. I hope I would have made better choices than my former teammates, but then again, we can all look back over the past year and recognise how we could have done better at times.
As my father would often say…’But there for the grace of God, go I’…