Longford Leader columnist Mattie Fox: New GAA President John Horan must address toxic issues

Mattie Fox

Longford Leader columnist, Mattie Fox

Those of us who grew up in a Gaelic Football family were introduced to the sport remarkably early.
Naturally, perhaps.

In old Ireland particularly, wherever a Dad went, a son wanted to follow. This urge became a great need pulsating within, for some of us. I clearly remember being gripped by anxiety to get to see a football match. It all sounded so exciting.

Little wonder, since my father was County Secretary at the time, and I’d formed the view that in our house everything revolved around football. Now I realise that was only half the story.

Finally sometime in my sixth year of growing up I was brought to a match. Some team versus Edgeworthstown.

We travelled with me sitting in the back/the trailer, of a truck owned by Frank “the Punk” Airlie, of Colmcille.

We went from Sonny & Bridgie Kenny’s house .....relatives ........ I cannot recall where it was; maybe Bracklyn..... might have been Drumeel too....

The Kenny’s had emigrated to Birmingham at the time, and I think they were home on holidays.

That’s how I remember it anyway.

Being lifted and put in the trailer of the pickup truck was such a thrill. This was the life!

My father was reffing the game.

And no, I don’t know what he was like.

Fairly strict I’d say!

That was in 1955. After that I got to occasional matches, all club games.

I recall a game later, I attended in a field beside our house, Harte’s field where Sean Connolly’s played their games.

The match was against Killoe, and I can remember some players who were lining out on the day - Sean McEvoy, James Maguire, Peter Peter McNamara, Eamon Harte, Fr Sean McNamara, Charlie “Dixie” Airlie, Paddy “Parlour” Farrell, Barney Doris, Johnny Rawle,.......every one since passed on to the great football field in the sky....RIP.

It was the last match played by Fr Sean McNamara, who was traveling to New Zealand the following week.

He called to our house that week before he left. Mammy was very lonesome.

It was the first of only a few times I saw her cry. She wept bitter tears.

I remember being shocked, and disturbed by the sight of her, crying. Another time I saw her crying was earlier when I was little more than an infant. That was when we travelled from Edderland, leaving “Grandfather’s” house where my mother and father started out their married life.

On that occasion I couldn’t understand why Granny was crying as she’d stopped milking a goat to talk to Mammy, down in what was known as the Acres, over Gurteen lake.

On that occasion I was simply puzzled.

Nowadays “the Acres” is Maguire Park, home to the Connolly club.

Fr Sean was killed in a car accident in New Zealand soon afterwards.

I went to my first county final in Pearse Park in 1960.

The year the Sean Connolly Cup was first presented.

The game was between Killoe and Slashers.

Killoe won the first Connolly cup.

I can recall many of the teams names, at that stage I was almost ten years old.

Killoe had Sean McGoey, Billy Morgan, “Gurdie” Quinn, Mickey Bracken, John Bracken, John Hagan, George Doherty was in the goals....good he was too, Davy Sheehan a stylish flying wing forward. Many of those players are now deceased.

Slashers had ‘Smiler’ Fay, Noel Caslin, Mickey Kelly, Mick Gilleran, father of Barry, Neilus Corkery, Paddy Dennigan, Pauric Gearty, most now deceased also.....

Nowadays, the GAA is run in the main by clubs whose members were so interested in the game that they evolved into officials. There are none who didn’t start out as volunteers, doing it for the love of club.
John Horan is one such, and I wish him well as President.
Hopefully he’ll seize the opportunity to address some of the features that have become toxic in the association.

Fixtures, is an obvious first.

The way young people are pulled and dragged around various teams is just wrong.

No young man can withstand the strain of too many games, without having time to recover. Young men are still growing, at nineteen or twenty years of age.

Yes, there’s the odd exception, but rare.

To see them playing senior league football, alongside colleges competition, is just painful to witness.

Look at Kerry. Already they’ve had a few young men who had to stand out a game because they got injured. Too much football.

As I say, hopefully, John Horan will seize the moment, and do something to remember him by. It’s quite possible he will, because so far in life he’s been his own man, with a real mind to address things, and has the advantage of much charm alongside.

Like the Pope in Rome, it won’t be easy, as many officials are stuck in their ways.

Read more from Mattie Fox here.

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