JACK MADDEN: The imbalance of power

By Jack Madden

PATRICK McCarry of Sports Joe summated what has become an alternate dimension. “Manchester United take the money and run on distasteful visit to Dublin.” Too many shirts and ties. Elite level soccer is no longer a game of the people.

The RTÉ Kevin Moran documentary a few months back was an insight into the ways of old. Two trades that intertwined, where unlikely paths could intersect. Back then, GAA was an unknown quantity for the hierarchy of Manchester. Today, you’re a little more than a Google away from self proclaimed expertise.

The Irish United supporters should be up in arms over a rather farcical trip to Dublin, but the times have changed. The reality is Ireland will likely never be amongst the Premier League royalty again. Generational talents like Evan Ferguson will come and go.

The reach of the Premier League has gone so far beyond the Irish Sea, and we are but a drop in the ocean. Supporters here can make all the noise they want, but they won’t be heard.

It’s an easy statement to make when the national side are at a relatively low ebb, but while the Irish support hasn’t changed, Manchester United have. The investment provides no dividend.

For many it is a generational habit, a “my father before me, his father before him” kind of deal. A sentimental investment almost, and for that, there is licence to say fair enough.

But when those generations supported the Red Devils or anyone else, they had respect for Irish players. They had respect for the game in Ireland. Manchester United and the rest don’t care for their Irish support base anymore.

Grow the game they say, when what they really mean is follow the money wherever and however it comes. Maybe we’re the bigger fools. Maybe that’s all we ever were..

In that case knock yourself out Saudi Arabia. Give it socks America.

That is not to say those countries don’t deserve their chance. The Premier League is now international, and we in Ireland look externally and contribute to this globalisation as much as anyone.

In a quest to be the best and the biggest, you leave an awful lot behind.

What is the culture of the Premier League? What are FIFA’s long term ambitions? What is the global image of elite level soccer? It’s difficult to answer any of those questions without arriving at one simple conclusion: Money.

At a funeral in Clontibret on Tuesday morning, a stray thought occurs. The complete absence of any kind of connection to the game of soccer is apparent. Fiona Gormley, a much loved member of the community, is represented by all things GAA.

Clontibret O’Neill’s players past and present bring a vibrant yellow to proceedings. A guard of honour stands at the club as she passes. At the church, there are GAA stars, many of countrywide prominence, and it is no surprise.

But they are still there. That’s the GAA. That’s community. That is the spirit and culture of Ireland, and as the emotional tributes come thick and fast, you can’t help but feel some sense of pride to be present. Some sense of interwoven DNA with friends, acquaintances, even strangers.

It’s just a small example of a sport built on something called interdependence. People know each other, they help each other out, they rely on each other. In many ways the GAA keeps alive the Catholic principle of “love thy neighbour as thyself” as Catholicism itself ekes its way out of society with each new generation.

Next time you stand in the graveyard, take time to notice the graves with flags and emblems of Clontibret or Monaghan or anywhere else. The reality is in so many towns and villages throughout rural Ireland, there are two religions. For the atheists, perhaps there is one.

Mass or the GAA or a combination of the two will pull you through the darkest of corners, something to believe in, be it praying or playing, managing, coaching, volunteering or supporting.

The people standing beside you will have had those dark corners too. This is your club, this is your community, and that fact will never change until your time comes to pass too. There is a power in that.

Perhaps the biggest victims of it all are the people who work endlessly and tirelessly for the game of soccer in this country. The grassroots coaches and the League of Ireland supporters who back their own in a way that so few do.

When Monaghan United withdrew from the Airtricity League in 2012, it was a genuine loss to the community. Perhaps Manchester was united too when Old Trafford became HQ back in 1910. Not any more.

As an Irishman particularly, it feels as though we are just contributing to the greed of others. A horse that pulls the cart yet pays for his own hay.

With the resumption of the English top flight this weekend, Liverpool and Chelsea and others will be “we” and “us” to neighbours and friends. The social media influence will see that trend continue. The youth are already more exposed and invested in international sport than many realise.

With great power comes great responsibility, but the two mix like water and oil. To quote Matt Groening: “Of course I’ve gone mad with power. Have you ever tried going mad without power? It’s boring. No one listens to you.”

The GAA hits an ever so delicate balance of inclusivity, yet loyalty to their own. A bubble essentially, where those who come are welcomed and protected. Even as the future seems destined for professionalism, there are clear core values.

Core values that exist on every level, be it Sinead O’Connor’s voice soaking into the stands of a heaving Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, or a guard of honour five minutes over the road that helps to stitch up the emotional wounds of a grief stricken community.

Perhaps we don’t know how lucky we are.

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