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Helmets turning hurling into a faceless sport

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Date Published: {J}

Even Joan Collins doesn’t wear shoulder pads anymore, but the way the GAA is going hurlers could one day be faced with the prospect of trudging around the fields with them together with gum shields, shin pads and helmets. In that event, they will be more appropriately attired for a battle-ground than a sporting arena . . . and as for player recognition, well that will go out the window altogether.

Free spirit and individualism is also being sacrificed on the populist altar of hurlers’ safety and I fear that the game is being turned into a faceless sport. The mandatory use of helmets at all levels since the turn of the year is a most regrettable move and makes hurling a far less attractive game to watch and to participate in. It’s the classic marketing own goal.

Regular readers of this column already appreciate my negative views on the use of helmets. During a long playing career – I reluctantly hung up the boots at 41 years of age – I twice had the misfortune to wear a helmet and, on both occasions, it felt like my head was in a microwave! Of course, I have paid the penalty for what some would perceive as having a cavalier approach with over 100 stitches inserted in head wounds along the way. But do you know what, I am proud of every one of them. They are my badge of honour.

Yes, some people will be appalled by what they perceive as this outdated rhetoric . . . I hear them say: ‘move with the times John, safety is everything on a sportsfield.’ Now don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no difficulty with players who enthusiastically wear helmets and are comfortable doing so, but it’s removing the freedom of choice which gets my goat. Hundreds of hurlers all over the country are now being forced to do something that is completely alien to them.

Frankly, health & safety and political correctness is gone out of control in Ireland. I remember as Offaly manager back in 2005, we had a home draw against Clare in the All-Ireland qualifiers, but with Tullamore being revamped, the local County Board offered Birr as a replacement. Health & Safety officials came down to inspect the ground and put a ridiculous crowd ceiling of less than 4,000 on the venue. The upshot was that the GAA believed the game would attract a bigger attendance and they moved the fixture to Portlaoise. Offaly lost by a point. Remember, Birr staged the 1971 All-Ireland semi-final between Tipperary and Galway in front of an estimated crowd of 15,000 . . . see what I mean!

Back to helmets. In terms of promoting a particular sport, hero recognition is critical but how are we going to sell hurling to young boys if they don’t know what many of the game’s top players even look like? Kilkenny defender Jackie Tyrell is a former All-Ireland winning captain, but how many GAA people would recognise him if he walked down the main street of Loughrea? Now, it if was Dan Shanahan or Sean Og O hAilpin, neither a helmet wearer, there would be a much far greater sense of familiarity.

There are other problems. Helmets aren’t injury bombproof either. In a recent Galway trial game, Tony Og Regan had to receive stitches as a direct result of the faceguard being pushed in after a collision with an opposition player, while Damien Joyce also required medical treatment to a head wound following an aerial exchange. We also have a new foul in hurling now which referees have simply not picked up on . . . players pulling at their opponent’s face guard.

It is also reasonable to claim that some hurlers have become more reckless in their challenges because rival players are so well protected. Would Benny Dunne, for instance, have pulled so dangerously on Tommy Walsh in last year’s All-Ireland final if the Kilkenny man hadn’t been wearing a helmet.

Furthermore, what happens on a baking hot day and a player feels his performance is being compromised by wearing a helmet or when the sun is blinding the goalkeeper’s eyes? If they cast the helmet aside, they will be sent off. Christy Ring and Mick Mackey must be turning in their graves. Players can occasionally get away with blatant thuggery on the field of play, but if others remove their helmet, they are now faced with a penal sanction. The GAA have an unusual slant on justice.

I am aware of many hurlers who are considering giving up the game because of the helmet issue. What is wrong with freedom of choice? In an era when rugby is experiencing a phenomenal boom – and more luck to it – in this country, hurling needs all the help it can get. Instead, we are diminishing its attractiveness and, in the process sending out the message that it is a dangerous game to participate in. Watching juveniles as young as six wearing big helmets that they are hardly able to support is not in keeping with a sporting pursuit.

Sure, there are a number of hurlers wearing helmets who are very recognisable, but the likes of Henry Shefflin, Eoin Kelly and Joe Canning are very high profile and deservedly so. The bottom line is that Shanahan, O hAilpin, John Mullane, Waterford’s Eoin Kelly, Mark Foley, Michael Kavanagh and Ken McGrath help to sell the sport far more than Derek Lyng, J.J. Delaney, Declan Fanning or Niall McCarthy who have been all competing at the top level for years as well.

A helmet wasn’t seen on a hurling field until the late sixties and the game survived and thrived without them. It’s actually gone so bad now that Kevin ‘Chunky’ Hayes wouldn’t be let back onto the field against Laois in the Leinster championship last summer because there was a bit of blood on his togs. He was forced to return to the dressingroom to get a clean pair before being allowed to rejoin the action. In a close game, an incident like that could cost a team victory.

If I was still hurling, there is no way I would wear a helmet. I would either seek a court injunction against the GAA for infringing on my democratic rights or present a doctor’s certificate to the match referee confirming that I had some sort of scalp problem which prevented me from using a helmet. What would the referee do then? A doctor’s cert is, by and large, sacrosanct.

We now have a situation where seasoned players, both at club and county level, are being driven tormented over the mandatory use of helmets. They have given sterling service to the GAA; it is their life; only for them to be treated with utter disregard. There is also the matter of cost – I am told a helmet costs around €90 – and this is another negative, especially at a time when unemployment is on the increase.

Maybe, I am a dinosaur on the issue, but I have no desire to see hurling turned in a version of American Football where big men lump around the field wearing what is akin to body armour. The GAA mightn’t appreciate it now, but they may be just preparing the way for hurling to become even more physical and the hits to become even harder in the years ahead. Too much protection gives players the licence to really live on the edge. I rest my case.

For more, read page 55 of this week’s Connacht Tribuine.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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