Moorefield defender Liam Callaghan playing for Newbridge side Moorefield in a championship tie against Leixlip
Nothing beats being there. The GAA’s slogan is a marketing ploy.
It’s true too, though. You may see more on TV, what with crystal clear images, multiple camera angles and a battery of talking heads — mainly former players who had little enough to say for themselves when they were playing — to interpret it for you.
But the atmosphere at Croke Park when Galway played Waterford in the All-Ireland hurling final was something to experience. The fact that both camps arrived with expectations of success contributed to it.
There was added poignancy on this occasion because of the sudden death in the run up to the game of Tony Keady, one of the game’s greats who won successive All-Irelands with Galway in 1987 and ‘88. He was 53. Memories of another Galway player Niall Donoghue, who died in 2013 aged 22, were present at the game. Both men were remembered by Galway captain David Burke in his speech after receiving the Liam McCarthy Cup.
The GAA is by some distance the most important sporting organisation on this island. Because it’s much more than an administrative cell for football, hurling, camogie and handball.
If it were just that it would be on the same level as the IRFU or the FAI.
When David Burke spoke about Tony Keady and Niall Donoghue he may as well as been talking about his friends. Joe Canning stood with Tony Keady’s family on the Croke Park pitch for no other reason than it was a perfectly natural thing to do.
The GAA is a movement that is rooted in the community, especially so in the vast swathes of Ireland which lie outside urban areas. It’s hard to imagine the scale of the deficit that would exist in so many communities if the GAA didn’t.
It would undoubtedly be filled but not with anything near as wholesome.
It has its faults. It can be a little tribal at times, creating club rivalries and county rivalries that have a nasty edge. It can be hypocritical — extolling the virtues of its amateur ethos while selling its games to Rupert Murdoch.
Other sports are not unimportant. All sport is equally good from a playing point of view — it doesn’t matter whether it's lacrosse or curling. But soccer — despite the endless hype created by the aforementioned Murdoch’s TV empire — can never hope to dislodge the GAA.
It’s derided sometimes as the Grab All Association. Where’s the evidence to support this lazy cliche ? Admission rates, while not free, are not overly expensive and it’s the FAI and IRFU who bundle tickets together compelling fans to buy tickets for unattractive games so that they can see the ones they want. The GAA filters money down to the smallest clubs to help create facilities. If you were to judge the FAI by the facilities that some clubs have to use, you’d assume the organisation was bankrupt.
It’s a game played locally by clubs struggling to survive, clubs which sometimes go in and out of business. It’s a game presided over in this country by a very well paid boss and whose bright light players across the water are paid astronomical salaries.
And rugby — great game that it is — struggles to shake off its middle class status tag and the feeling that it is a game played by people who come together solely for that purpose.
It has its place in history too and is credited in some quarters with helping to heal the divisions of the savage conflict that was the Civil War in Kerry — where some of the very worst atrocities occurred. But the GAA works because it’s in us. It doesn’t serve us. It is us or a part of us at least. It is the heart and soul.