DRINK and the GAA.
It’s always been there, even though former president of the association, Dr Mick Loftus could be said to have waged a one-man crusade over many decades to rid the GAA of the demon drog with the same zeal as St Patrick is supposed to have used when banishing those snakes.
It’s there though and always will be, whether its players having a few after the spoils of victory, or even a few injured players having a few before the opening round of the National Hurling League — whether they were soft or hard drinks doesn’t really matter.
And another thing that’s always been there is that some players are more equal than others, because whether it’s county or club, it’s hard to find a dressing room anywhere that you have everyone treated the same.
All-Ireland winning footballer by four Tom Spillane recounted a story a few years back for the ‘Princes of Pigskin’ book on Kerry football — a football story that was laced with drink.
It was early summer 1984 and Kerry were out regain a couple of titles they thought on as their own — the All-Ireland that was lost in ’82 and the Munster title that was lost in ’83.
Things were motoring along nicely — the National League title was won, but such were the levels of preparation that in early summer two challenge/trial games were played simultaneously in different parts of the country.
One team went to Annascaul, while the other team drew the short straw had to go as far as Tuam. Pat Spillane got the Annascaul gig, while Tom headed up the N17 to Tuam.
Thing is, for the Spillane brothers it was a longer journey home to South Kerry from Annascaul than it was from Tuam, because of the many breaks in the journey along the way as Pat celebrated coming through the game unscathed on one of his first days out since having his knee rebuilt — starting with the pub belonging to the magician Dan Foley, then Tom Crean’s South Pole Inn and snaking all the way back to Kenmare and beyond to Spillane country out in Templenoe.
It was Kerry’s drink culture, brought home to Tom Spillane a few years later when he went to Dublin to collect a player of the month award. He brought Valentia’s Ger Lynch — the two of them soldiered together on the half-back line for the All-Ireland wins of ’84, ’85 and ’86 — with him for company, but it meant they wouldn’t be back in Killarney in time for Mick O’Dwyer’s training.
“I remember Dwyer coming to myself and Ger Lynch,” remembered Spillane from the next training session. “He was scratching his nose and passing within two inches of you and looking for the smell. ‘Easy on the drink and the parties lads,’ he’d say. ‘What do you mean, I don’t drink,’ I’d roar back,” Spillane added.
“‘I hear ye’re party boys’,” Dwyer would say to myself and Tom,” confirmed Lynch. “Tom got the award in Dublin. He was so committed that after the do, he went of to Michéal Ó Muircheartaigh’s training in UCD with his brother Mick. I went drinking. The next time we gathered for a Kerry session, Dwyer put Tom through hell. He thought he was on the beer’,” added Lynch.
It’s a classic case of players being treated differently — something that was at the kernel of what Davy O’Halloran had to say when coming clean about his departure from the Clare squad.
“Myself and Nicky O’Connell were out two nights before the Galway game and the two of us were actually injured at the time and we weren’t drinking,” he revealed.
Then when punishment for this offence was meted out to O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell, but not to another player who allegedly was drinking, O’Halloran claimed “double standards, one rule for us and a different rule for someone else just because he was a pivotal part of the team and we weren’t”.
O’Halloran wasn’t the first to be treated differently and won’t be the last, but that’s not the story anymore — instead it’s been overtaken by the extraordinary statement released by management and players last Wednesday: “The Clare Senior Hurling Panel and Management have met on the recent disciplinary issues that have been aired in the Public Domain. All involved are happy that the matter was dealt with fairly.
“While there are numerous inaccuracies reported in the media, on social media and in a former player’s statement, the matter is now closed and we as a group are all happy to move forward united and to continue to enjoy working hard for Clare Hurling.”
Clearly it was an attempt to put the controversy to bed once and for all. It didn’t. It was ill-advised, ill-timed and posed more questions that it answered.
Basically, by accusing O’Halloran, though declining to name him, of “inaccuracies” they were saying that he wasn’t telling the truth. That’s a serious charge, particularly when the statement declines to enlighten the hurling world as to what these “inaccuracies” were.
The repeated assertions that everything is rosy in the Clare garden reminds one of the old story of “when you’re going bad you gotta look good”.
The hope has to be that this hugely talented group are only one game away from clicking into their 2013 zone, but the reality is that Clare have been going badly for the guts of a year now.
Even allowing for the hangover of being defending All-Ireland champions things really started to go wrong — not so much on the field but off it — in the days after the Munster semi-final defeat to Cork.
It was that Clare County Board meeting in Clareabbey when clubs faced attempts by the top table to bully them over fixtures, with the tin hat being put on things with the extraordinary statement by chairman Michael McDonagh that the Clare “management would take no responsibility for results going forward”.
It was essentially blaming the clubs for defeat when it eventually happened.
Then there was the blaming of football for defeat — Podge Collins for playing both codes in 2014, even thought it was agreed by the hurling management that he could do so. This blame game even made it to RTÉ where again and again it found expression through Dónal Óg Cusack’s words.
Then there was the ultimatum to Podge to chose hurling or football/family for 2015 — the timing of this ultimatum was extraordinary, as it was last September even before the 2014 All-Ireland championship had been finished.
Fast forward from September to last Sunday — you had the situation where Podge was tweeting about the Liverpool v Man United game instead of being in Nowlan Park hurling. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t there and you can be sure that he wanted to be there.
Finally there was last Wednesday’s statement, which had all the hallmarks of being choreographed to draw a line under the latest controversy.
It was given to RTÉ so it made the sports bulletin on the Six One News; it was issued in time for Thursday’s The Clare Champion and the national papers — then it would be time to move onto Kilkenny and get back to the basics of what they’re about. The hurling.
Thing is, they’d done that in the second half against Dublin, with Davy Fitzgerald saying afterwards “we are 100pc certain that we do things by the book and there is a set of rules there and that is the way it is and they were implemented. That’s all it was and I will not be saying one other word apart from that”.
That was that, only for the whole thing to be bizarrely revisited with the statement that was effectively blown out of the water within hours by Ger Loughnane words in The Daily Star: “Does this statement issued by the Clare panel and management on the departure of Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell bring the matter to a close?” wondered Loughnane.
“Not at all. Instead, this is like pouring petrol on to a dying fire. I’d have been much happier if the Clare panel and management had just let the thing go.
Now, there is a real danger that O’Halloran will be further aggrieved by this statement. So the whole thing could snowball. He might feel he has to respond. That would lead to more negative headlines about Clare.
“This statement is a mistake. There is a reference to inaccuracies in a former player’s statement. How is this going to go down? I can’t understand why that claim has been put in the public domain.
“There are people who are alway willing to think the worst of Davy Fitzgerald. That’s why I think Davy Fitz and other members of the management team made a mistake by lending their names to the statement. Those with a jaundiced view of the set-up will straightaway presume the players were put under pressure to sign the statement,” he added.
Coming from anyone else the words wouldn’t have carried such a big punch, but from Ger Loughnane they represented a knockout blow. Loughnane, as the professor emeritus of Clare hurling packs that killer heavyweight punch. He’s hurling version of Sir Matt Busby or Sir Alex Ferguson up in the stand or director’s box casting his eyes on the Clare hurling landscape — the only difference is he doesn’t have a knighthood.
He’s the man that’s brought in to present the All-Ireland medals and give the state of Clare hurling nation orations — he’s the man Clare hurling should be listening to now.
He’s right because what happened in Clare over the past few weeks wouldn’t have happened elsewhere, or at least wouldn’t have spiralled in the way this controversy has.
Take Kilkenny. Remember the furore Charlie Carter whipped up when he left the Kilkenny squad. Brian Cody was unmoved, while the collective of players and management were certainly not moved to issue a statement.
Take Tipperary. Only last year the word was that some of them had a night out in Dublin early in the National League campaign — and they weren’t even injured.
Eamonn O’Shea didn’t send them to the ‘Coventry’ of having to train on their own on the back pitch of Semple Stadium and they didn’t have to strip the Skoda gear off their backs or hand in their team bus passes.
Instead, they just got on with it and at year’s end came within John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer’s puck and a Hawk-Eye call of winning the All-Ireland.
Getting to within a puck of winning the All-Ireland is Clare’s goal and for all the tumult, trials and throw in tribulations too, there’s no reason why it still can’t happen for them in 2015.
Friday last was International Day of Happiness, but far from it being a hunky, dory and happy Clare hurling family there have been serious troubles and fall-outs over the past nine months or so.
But the darkest hour is still always before the dawn.
Why not for Clare hurling in 2015 and what better place to start than a relegation play-off. After all, it was one of Clare’s launching pads in 2013.
It’s time to get back to the hurling.
DRINK and the GAA.