Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: What the hell is going on?

A RECENT circular was emailed from GAA HQ to every club and county delivering a cruel corporate message.

“Ard Comhairle bulletin 25ú Márta 2023

Meetings of An Coiste Bainistíochta and Ard Chomhairle took place last night and today respectively. The following decision was taken:

To prohibit the promotion of charities, campaigns etc on playing gear; it was felt there are other ways to promote these without modifying playing gear.”

On the 5th of August 2022, in the middle of a senior championship game against Kilruane McDonaghs at Semple Stadium, Dillon Quirke, the fresh faced captain of Clonoulty collapsed. His father Dan, mother Hazel and sister Shannon ran to their boy as he lay dying on the pitch. The medics fought to save him. When his mother Hazel saw her beloved son’s fingers turning blue, she knew he was gone. She knew she would never see him again. For all those who loved Dillon, he will be forever young. Memories and photographs are all that is left.

His heartbroken parents founded the Dillon Quirke Foundation, a charity set up to ensure screening of all GAA players from the age of 12 onwards. Their son died of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. Their commitment, their sacred crusade, is that no other GAA family and community will have to feel their pain. The absence of their beautiful boy. The terrible suffering they have to endure.

This year’s huge Munster hurling clash between Tipp and Limerick was to be a momentous day for the family and the foundation. The game is to be televised live. Both counties had immediately agreed to wear the Dillon Quinn foundation on their jerseys for the game. It is a very special jersey. Over €440,000 has been raised for the screening program since the announcement in December 2022. This is the epitome of the GAA community. It is what we are.

Dan Quirke rang me last week. “Sorry to bother you Joe, but we are devastated and wonder if anything is to be done. Our hearts are broken. We have the best people on our board. John Kiely, Henry Shefflin and other people of the highest calibre. We cannot understand it at all. It is bewildering. Dillon died in Semple Stadium playing for his club. He loved the GAA. It was his life. All we want to do is save other lives. To screen young GAA players all over the country, something we know Dillon would be very proud of. We cannot get our heads around this at all. Why are they doing this?”

Why are they doing this? What is the point of the GAA?

When I gave a kidney to another GAA man in 2012, it sparked a movement that has transformed organ donation across the island. Hundreds of teams at all levels, both county and club, have worn and are wearing the optforlife logo. It was designed by a friend who lost her baby. No charge. It was given to us with her love and blessing to help us save lives. The logo is known and worn wherever GAA is played. I have travelled to hundreds of counties and clubs and communities to present the jerseys and give talks on organ donation. The campaign is a voluntary one. No one is paid. The idea was to model optforlife on the founding principles of the GAA, a volunteer group seeking to do good for the sake of doing good.

The campaign has demystified organ donation. The GAA community has rallied around it. Countless lives have been saved. Tim Brown, the eminent transplant surgeon at Belfast City Hospital (the North is now the world’s leading living donor country) calls it “The Brolly bounce.” What he really means is the GAA bounce.

I was due to present several sets of optforlife jerseys to teams over the coming weeks. Now, will teams all around the GAA world have to cover the logo with tape? Or will they have to remove them altogether? Or buy new jerseys? I have been getting calls all week wondering what the hell is going on.

From 2013-2015, John Murphy, a Roscommon businessman and philanthropist, sponsored the Roscommon senior football team. Instead of his company, he emblazoned the jerseys with ‘Mayo Roscommon Hospice.’ I rang John on Friday. “I’ve always thought that the point of the GAA was to give something back. I did very well out of business. The hospice is very close to the GAA ideal. A free service for our most vulnerable people. So it was a natural choice for me. I cannot believe what the GAA has done. It is a disgrace.”

No reason has been given by the GAA’s Director General Tom Ryan for this decision. Perhaps that is because even they, with all the casual disregard they have for us, would not write the words down. We have seen for some time how the central GAA is becoming more remote from the people. How they treat us as mere consumers. They are entirely comfortable with the corporate world, but suspicious of us. More than that, they have contempt for us. We are a nuisance that constantly gets in the way of their commercial vision.

Needless to say, this policy is not a ban on “any kind of messaging on playing gear” at all. Only charities and good causes are banned. If however you are a corporation with a dark history, bring it on. A purveyor of junk food? Show us the money. A diabetes drinks maker that has contributed to the destruction of habitats of vulnerable people around the globe? Excellent, where do we sign. A predatory lender? Go raibh maith agat. A bank that screwed the country? Is mise le meas. An insurance conglomerate that played a “major role” in the collapse of the financial system in 2008? Sign here thanks very much, and how many comps do you need for the finals?

Charities and good causes have been banned because they are inconsistent with the corporate vision of the GAA. All this care for your neighbours and life blood of our communities and volunteerism and saving lives and all the rest of that bollocks is just parochial virtue signalling.

The French people are rebelling against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The country is in flames. Channel 4 had a reporter at one of the protests and interviewed a very respectable looking, well spoken middle aged lady who spoke perfect English. “Why are you involving yourself in this type of violent protest?” “Because we refuse to become savages like the English.”

The GAA hierarchy want us to be the premiership. A soulless, money generating venture as ghastle as WWE. Meanwhile, the GAA community want us to be the GAA, with all our love and solidarity, and parochialism and togetherness.

Everyone should ignore this email and this rotten new policy. Every team bearing the logo of a charity or a good cause should continue to wear it proudly. Limerick and Tipperary should honour their fallen comrade on live TV and honour Dillon’s heartbroken friends and family. Every team wearing optforlife or hospice or suicide awareness or children’s cancer care should stick their chests out and refuse to let their vulnerable friends and neighbours down. Let the suits in Croke Park do whatever the hell they want.

We need to be like the French. We need to make a stand. Now. Otherwise, we will wake up some morning soon and be savages like the English.

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