Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Is Brea Liom

First and foremost, I wish to correct myself. In my last article, I recalled an anecdote about a particular Monaghan referee with the surname of McEneaney. 

I incorrectly referred to him as Eamonn, when he was indeed Pat.

I was simultaneously researching different footballers and Eamonn was there, and his name must have stuck in my mind (Perhaps you’ll see that article soon enough, even though McEneaney didn’t make the 15…)

Anyways, back to business.

Last Thursday, we had Valentine’s Day.

A day of love and all sorts of other emotions are flowing in the air like the plague, and come the next day, it’s gone.

It got me thinking.

Not about a woman, but about all the other things I love in my life. 

And that includes football. 

Now, all we see is constant criticism and questioning towards the association (and I’m as guilty as anyone).

“Why the new rule changes?”, “Why the new fixture format?”, “Why hasn’t Brian Cody retired?”

These questions are often asked in a negative sense, by journalists and critics hunting for controversial quotes and hypocrisies within the organisation so they can publish them and lead a rage of public ridicule. 

Now, let’s take some of the most typical questions and take some good from them.

“Why Do You Play? Sure there’s no money in it?”

Probably one of the most common questions a GAA personnel will get asked, and often by those who indulge in the entertainment of professional sports such as Soccer 

Sure wouldn’t it be great if we got paid for running our arses off for 40 weeks in the year, but we don’t, and we don’t particularly miss it. 

That’s one of the things I love most about our games, they’re amateur.

Within our organisation, we can distinguish who really wants to play for their jersey, for their people, their community

We can tell who really wants to do it because they love their county.

If money came into the equation, we would see a decline in the strong sense of pride, history and heritage that we see in our games, often associated with playing and representing our own county. 

“Why do you play? Sure you could bust yourself and do damage and there’s no money for you”

Believe me, if anyone has heard this, it’s me.

I know and see more than anyone else the dangers associated with playing football in relation to injury. 

If I were to break a hand, a wrist, a finger or two, not only would that jeopardise my studies that I so desperately need to focus on, it would also cost me quite a bit, as I gig for a living. 

But sure here, who cares at the end of the day.

The thought of giving up playing football nearly killed me.

I love music, don’t get me wrong, but I love football just as much, despite the fact I possess second to no natural ability or talent for the game.

I love the involvement with a team, the craic, the brotherhood, the warm summer nights in the bottom field where you can joke around and have a laugh after you emptied your tank during the runs… you can’t buy them feelings, you can’t emulate them no matter how hard you try.

Those only come with playing.

“Why do you bother getting so wound up? Sure it’s only a game of football”

This one hits me, because, I’m quite easily raised. 

If someone enters football talk with me, I don’t take it lightly.

It’s my favourite topic of conversation and when the craic gets going, don’t we all lose ourselves that little bit more than normal.

But the fact of the matter is, it’s pure passion.

All of it.

The association boasts two of the most unique games in the world.

Nowhere will you travel and find a sport with the speed, skill level and sheer size of hurling.

A man sprinting down a field with a ball the size of your fist on a stick stuck 2 foot out in front of him and two other fellas beating him senseless on a Sunday afternoon in front of 82,300 people.

Only in Ireland.

Nowhere will you travel and find a sport that boasts such professional athletic qualities, all for the passion and pride of their region.

These games are at the heart of our country, they’ve been about for hundreds of years and were part of the struggle for Irish Liberation.

When I talk about these games, I like many others feel that passion, that excitement, the feeling of over 130 years of history inside me tumbling about my stomach while Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh provides the narrative for it all.

For many, our games are our life.

Ger Loughanne said “Many people think that hurling isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. But to some people, Hurling is the grand scheme of things”

The great Liverpool Legend Bill Shankly once stated “Some people will try to tell you that football is a matter of life and death… well, I can assure you, it’s much more important than that”. 

It’s like what Mikey Sheehy said about our calendar, “There are two times of year: Championship, and waiting for the Championship”

I love our Championship summers. 

I love getting up on Sunday mornings after a gig or a night’s work, getting a breakfast roll and heading to Clones, to Dublin, or even Galway.

I love the architectural marvel that is Croke Park.

The 3rd largest stadium in Europe by capacity and it’s the home of our glorious association.

Some of my happiest memories have come from football. 

Yes, that seems sad that the only happy memories an 18 year old has are football related, but that’s just the way things go.

I’ll never forget the 2013 Ulster Final, and Tommy Freeman getting the final point as he clinched the Ulster Title he so deserved.

I’ll never forget Conor McManus’ incredible display against Donegal in the 2015 Ulster Final, cementing his place in history as one of the greatest players to grace the game.

I’ll never forget that sunny day in Salthill. After travelling for hours on a bus to the sunny side of Ireland, I nervously awaited Monaghan’s biggest game in 30 years… and the final whistle.

The shivers are still with me as one sixth of Monahan’s entire population spilled out onto the field to celebrate with the heroes that lived beside them, that worked in the property offices down the street, or that work in the bar there in Carrick… that’s the GAA.

I love the big days out in Croke Park.

I’ll never forget my first All-Ireland semi-final between Mayo and Kerry back in 2017… what a game.

Tit for tat the whole time, with both teams playing till death in the pouring rain for a colander dish with big handles.

I’ll never forget meeting Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh in Inniskeen… and I’ll sure as hell never forget walking into the Kerry management dressing room and ignoring a naked Maurice Fitzgerald so I could get my picture taken with Mikey Sheehy…

And I’ll never forget meeting Micko… that memory will stay with me till I draw my last breath.

I love the Sunday Game. I love the battles between Spillane and Brolly, who are in fairness, two incredibly articulate brains as far as football goes.

And of course I love Colm O’Rourke. Everyone loves Colm.

I love sitting down Sunday night and watching the highlights.

I love Davy Fitzgerald going ape over some trivial decision that would have never made any difference in the game. 

I love Tomas O Se and how he resembles his uncle Paidi and the heritage of every Kerry footballer to kick a ball (He dresses well too!)

I love the clubs… l love looking through the paper just to find some game, any old game, to go to on a Sunday when there’s nothing else better to be at.

I love looking at old last minute winners… I love Seamus Darby’s goal against Kerry in ’82 to stop the Five-In-A-Row, and I love Joe Canning’s last minute winner in the All-Ireland semi final against Tipperary in ’17.

I love the sunny evenings spent with a bag of balls, all on your own and the summer swallows, quietly perfecting your free kicks or just kicking a few over the bar to keep your legs going. 

I love the people. I love the Mayo fans, I love the Farney Army, and in fairness to them, you can’t ignore the Dublin fans, by God they make a right bit of noise and they fairly let you know that they’re about. 

I love the club people that are there rain or shine, good or bad. Those that stand by their county no matter what the case, no matter what happened or what will happen. These people are the key and the most important part of our games and should feel just as important as the big officials up in HQ. 

I love it all… it’s all beautiful.

No sport can provide such a unique culture, from such a unique country, with such a unique feeling of pride.

They say soccer is the beautiful game.

Aye, it might be… but here in Ireland, we have two beautiful games…

And I love them.

Barry McAllister