SPECTACULAR SETTING The Cipriani on Broadway in New York was the venue for the launch of the Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation last May.
The latest Mayo GAA dispute seemed impossible a few short months ago
IT was the most New York of love affairs; the pinnacle of which was a public declaration of devotion in front of a crowded Manhattan ballroom.
This was Carrie and Big, Harry meeting Sally.
Those that paid for the privilege to be there and observe surely felt butterflies in their tummies and their faces flush. It was undoubtedly worth the $1000 dollar-a-plate beef stroganoff just to have a front row seat to watch the coronation of the celebrity romance the earth and its cousins from Lahardane needed: The Mayo County Board had found its soul mate, and it wanted the world to know.
The planned fruits of this coupling were idyllic; promised donations to the Centre of Excellence, financial support for the academy, even talk of an Andy Moran museum.
Yep, this union would secure the financial future of Mayo football for a decade at least, and in these trying times, that was quite something.
That fateful Friday night in the Cipriani on Broadway was just the appetizer for a weekend of celebrations that would shame an Indian wedding. Mayo people flocked to the Big Apple by their thousands to reconnect with friends and family and to revel in that rarest or phenomena for a Mayo person; a guaranteed championship victory, not one we would have to sweat and agonize over until the last ball was kicked.
Us plebs had heard tell of this budding relationship but didn’t know how serious it was. After the events up on Broadway, there was no doubt, the County Board had fallen in love and didn’t care who knew.
This wasn’t so much holding hands in public for the first time, as it was Tom Cruise, jumping up-and-down on Oprah’s couch, nuttily shouting about his paramour Katie Holmes.
The beauty about this matrimony was, for once there was nothing to feel guilty or suspicious about. A wealthy benefactor, Tim O’Leary, had openly declared his desire to support Mayo GAA. A foundation was set up, ensuring transparency.
The numbers involved were made public. Even better, the projected beneficiaries of the monies pledged were not short term (i.e. the senior team), but much more strategic: the youth set-up, the clubs and the oft forgotten ladies’ football and hurling.
This was a refreshing departure from the alleged murky underworld of illicit cash that had apparently infected our virtuous game like an insidious parasite, causing once noblemen to demand ridiculous things:
“Did you hear Jason Doc demanded a Siberian white tiger and a Maserati or he won’t play FBD this year”, etc.
In the broader context of fundraising, this was a move to the adults table.
We, the supporters, could concentrate on supporting the county teams and volunteering at our clubs safe in the knowledge that the things outside our control, the big, money things were taken care of.
It was a slightly weird, novel feeling.
In the end, this marriage ended quicker than Kim Kardashians to Kris Humphries, and if that is one pop culture reference too many for you, it just means it didn’t last very long at all. There are parish priests out there who have given lengthier sermons.
SO, what started out like The Notebook is now about to play out like Kramer vs Kramer, a custody battle for the hearts and minds of Mayo footballing folk.
And this is not good, not just because of the optics (another Mayo scandal!), but because it threatens the wellbeing of Gaelic games within the county.
For too long, the success of our teams has papered over the cracks of accidental malpractice -often caused by senseless bickering - that has threatened the foundations of the GAA in Mayo.
Now, the storm clouds are coming in the form of dozens of properly administered ‘other’ sports, unburdened by a legacy of bitterness and historical megalomania.
Where once the GAA had a near monopoly on our young people, now, kids in Swinford and elsewhere can play pretty much anything from rugby to ultimate frisbee and have the opportunity to excel doing so.
The breadth of choice is only a good thing and should force Mayo GAA into being less complacent in assuming it will have the pick of every bunch for ever more.
Poor governance, or at least the perception of poor governance, will drive many heretofore loyal bedfellows into the arms of others.
How could you blame them? Few parents, no matter how steeped in the traditions of the GAA, will opt to support their kids in an endeavor that is shoddily run, lacks transparency and exhibits all the communication skills of a mannequin.
The sporting and social landscapes of communities in May have evolved, and those who run our games need to evolve with it.
Suddenly, the county board meeting on October 16 takes on huge significance, as it is then that the board have told us they will address the ‘huge amount of misinformation’ contained in a statement circulated by the Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation (who really need to shorten their name to the MGISF for ease of use!) to club delegates prior to the previous meeting on September 25.
After that meeting, County Board Chairman Mike Connelly justifiably laid bare the thankless plight of volunteer administrators when addressing media, and one would hope that much of this mess has all been a bit of a misunderstanding, that timing has played a part, especially in the context of the new commercial manager Tom Reilly only being appointed and in the job three months, therefore explaining a delay in the submission of the now famous missing business plans, whose absence the MGISF have highlighted as a breach of agreed processes. One would hope, but we have been here before, you and I, like innocent children caught between quarrelling parents, for whom the memories of a magical Manhattan night, have quickly ceded to the realisation that the bills need paying, bins need putting out, and that the labradoodle, the one you bought together while high on first-love endorphins - has the trots.
When Kavanagh considered the folly of local rows such as this versus global events, he wrote:
“I inclined to lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Til Homers ghost came whispering to my mind
He said: I made the Iliad from such a local row.
Gods make their own importance”
If he were still alive, Netflix executives would have commissioned him to write an open-ended series on Mayo football. One thing for sure, he’d never run out of material.
As for the here and now, there is always hope. Maybe, the board and its benefactor will rediscover the spark that first brought them together. Maybe love will genuinely find a way. Otherwise, it will be a case of the one that got away.
Oh well, we will always have The Cipriani…