DENIS HURLEY COLUMN: The worlds of sport and politics are so entwined in Ireland

July 8th, 2020 11:00 AM

By Denis Hurley

Cork and Nemo Rangers goalkeeper Micheál Aodh Martin pictured with his father, new Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

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GIVEN the way that the GAA operates as a de facto community centre in each parish, it’s hardly surprising that sport and politics are as entwined as they are in Ireland.

The country’s new Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, is steeped in Nemo Rangers. His son Micheál Aodh is the Cork senior football goalkeeper while his brother Seán has a pair of All-Ireland U21 medals. Of course, the only previous Corkman to hold the position of Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, was the ultimate combination of sportsman and politician, winning six All-Ireland senior titles with Cork, five hurling and one football.

If we had to guess, we reckon that a breakdown of the political allegiances of GAA members would show more support to the ‘old firm’ – and new partners – of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael than the overall picture. At the same time, one shouldn’t forget that former Tánaiste and Labour leader Dick Spring played hurling and football for Kerry as well as rugby for Ireland while Sinn Féin can count former Kerry U21 footballer Martin Ferris among its number while Gerry Adams’ son Gearóid played football for Antrim.

In recent times, inter-county managers John O’Mahony (Mayo, Galway, Leitrim) and Peter Fitzpatrick (Louth) have taken seats for FG while in 2002 Tony Dempsey was elected for FF while still the Wexford hurling manager. The newest intake includes former Mayo footballer Alan Dillon, who took Enda Kenny’s old seat in Mayo. Kenny himself was the son of Henry, who won an All-Ireland with Mayo in 1936 and six consecutive national league medals.

It should be noted, though, that being a GAA star isn’t an automatic pass to Leinster House. Graham Geraghty ran for FG in 2007 and fared poorly – though the fact that he said in a radio interview he was proud to be running for Fianna Fáil probably didn’t help, either.

Former Fine Gael TD Jim O’Keeffe is not someone who you’d accuse of being completely dyed-in-the-wool when it came to GAA, but he knew that a large swathe of his constituents were.

Back in April 2002, Courcey Rovers and Newcestown were due to play each other an intermediate hurling championship game at Kilbrittain and it was a perfect opportunity for Jim to canvass as both sets of supporters came under his Cork South-West remit.

As it happened, a deluge after an already stormy week meant that the pitch was unplayable and patrons already at the venue had to be refunded as they left. For Jim, it was a handy opportunity to get those potential voters he had missed on the way in and he passed out thousands of cards with his details on them.

Cannily, those cards also included the dates and kick-off times for the Republic of Ireland’s games in the upcoming World Cup. The late John Corcoran, who had attended the non-game as a neutral, would never miss such a detail and he effected faux-outrage at a foreign sport being advertised at a GAA venue. Thankfully, as this was a time before social media and the absence of nuance, everybody understood that he was joking.

John would surely have made a great TD but he had enough to keep him going with the tortuous world of GAA politics. However, Noel Harrington, who won a seat for Fine Gael in 2011, is someone who combined both, having been heavily involved in Castletownbere GAA before and after his stint in the Dáil.

We’re writing this before the announcement of the Ministers of State and so we don’t know exactly how sport will be treated as part of six briefs – media, tourism, arts, culture, sport and the Gaeltacht, under the care of Green minister Catherine Martin.

Given the troubles the FAI found itself in during the lifetime of the last government, it’s clear to see that a strong level of oversight is provided when it comes to sport and it would be a shame if it were to be almost forgotten in a mixed bag of portfolios.

Of course, that second wave of Covid-19 could be a lot closer than we think and sport would have to go into hibernation once more, without any opportunity for us to reacquaint ourselves with the simpler pleasures in life. We shall see.

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