Georgie Best and Clare GAA

Georgie Best being interviewed by Joe Ó Muircheartaigh in Shannon Airport.

THE GAA works in mysterious ways and you can be sure that the decision by the powers that be in Citizen Cusack country to wage its own war against social media will be looked upon with some amusement (you might say it is already) in GAA generations to come.
That is, when we’re all digital natives within the GAA and when social media, interactive white boards and the next generation of tools — and those in generations beyond that too — of communication will look to Clare as a case study or doctoral thesis material from an era when neo-Luddism hung in there for as long as it possibly could.
But credit Clare in other mysterious ways.
I’m thinking of those mavericks who have consistently gone against the GAA grain of what was expected of them. Gone against received wisdoms and the easy life by stepping up to the plate and making a stand.
People like Noel Walsh and his crusade the began in the 1980s to take on Kerry and Cork and their seeded draw for the Munster Football Championship. For Walsh it was the first of many crusades within the GAA.
Remember, there was his move a few decades later to throw open the gates of Croke Park to rugby and soccer, while you can expect the redoubtable Miltown Malbay man to come again with his proposal that other GAA stadia like Cusack Park, Fitzgerald Stadium and The Gaelic Grounds etc, etc, also be thrown open so that they can be used as part of the IRFU bid to bring Rugby World Cup 2023 to the four green fields.
But given the week that’s in it — all of you blueblood fans of the game you call football and not soccer will know that it’s ten years to this Wednesday that George Best left us — I’m thinking of when Clare GAA famously took its head out of its ‘Irish watermarked paper’ and brought Manchester United into a monthly meeting of the Clare County Board.
It was 17 February 1958, the Munich air disaster had happened just 11 days previously and it’s not stretching things to say that the sporting world was in mourning, something that made it as far as the monthly gathering of Clare Gaels that was staged in the Queen’s Hotel.
The headline in The Clare Champion said ‘GAA Body’s Sorrow Over Soccer Tragedy’, but just in case some Gaels felt that there might be a softening of attitudes towards the game that sub-heading of ‘No Break in Principle’ kicked that notion high and to touch.
But still, soccer was in the meeting, with the Clare County Board chairman of the day Rev John Corry introducing the game when declaring to delegates that “there is no ban as far as death is concerned”.
With that the native of Blackweir in west Clare proposed a vote of sympathy with the victims of the disaster, or what The Clare Champion called “the air mishap” in which members of the Manchester United team died when they “on their way home after a World Cup game in Belgrade”.
“They lost their lives because they were sportsmen,” continued Rev Corry, “and we are all deeply shocked with what happened,” he added.
“As many others have said, death transcends all bans,” noted Ennis delegate Thomas Brennan. “We have our principles but we somehow or other do break them when death presents and we sympathise wit the victims’ relatives,” he added.
But there was going to be no break in principle, something that the same county board proved inside a year when banning county hurlers Mick Arthur and Monty Flanagan of Newmarket-on-Fergus from the GAA for their crime of playing soccer.
Mysterious ways…
Just as it was another mysterious, but very welcome, day in Cooraclare ten years ago this week just after Georgie Best died.
The football field in Carhue was the epicentre of Clare GAA that week because the last team standing in the county that year, St Senan’s Kilkee, were playing a Munster Senior Club Football semi-final against An Ghaeltacht from west Kerry.
An Ghaeltacht had All-Ireland men in Dara Ó Sé, Marc Ó Sé, Dara Ó Cinnéide and Aodán MacGearailt — Tomás Ó Sé was suspended —but the Blues beat ‘em, and beat ‘em well on what was a special day in more ways than one.
Indeed, there was something in the air from the off, with proceedings being kicked off by the Cooraclare official who was public address duty that day — it was Sean Chambers if memory serves — who called on people to stand for a minute’s silence for Georgie Best.
There used to be a press area in Cooraclare then — a dug-out in between the two team dug-outs — and it was there that a reporter from outside the county bristled at the notion of a soccer man getting a minute’s silence at a GAA occasion.
I thought it was brilliant, and whose ever idea it was to commemorate Georgie Best in this way, it was inspired, because in its own way it was Clare’s way of saying goodbye to a football genius and the way he played the game.
I said my own goodbye about eight years previously when I got to interview the great man. It was in Shannon on a Saturday morning that Georgie landed — he wasn’t the worse for wear, how could he be as the day was only beginning.
He was in Shannon for a Holiday Fair, but when I met at about 10am in the executive suite behind the great portrait of JFK he was breakfasting on a pint class that was topped up with champagne and ice. It wouldn’t be the first he took that day, but it was great to meet him and greater still interview him, even if my line of questioning and interview techniques were never going to put Michael Parkinson out of a job.
Anyway, Georgie’s line that Saturday morning over champagne wasn’t a rhetorical ‘where did it all go wrong’.
Instead, he had the air of a man who never had it so good — a champagne breakfast in Shannon and getting to talk about why he was the best footballer in the world.
Great that the GAA’s mysterious ways meant he got that minute’s silence in Cooraclare.
It was a special GAA moment for a special footballer.

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