Not for the first time, the GAA has embarrassed itself by hiding behind a callous bureaucracy. Even if the Liam Miller testimonial does eventually get the green light for Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the unnecessary grief they have brought to Liam Miller’s family, friends and fans will not be forgotten.
If there is one attribute that the GAA has always been sorely lacking, it is surely that of common sense. And the examples of that lack of common sense are as many as they are bemusing.
Like that time they scheduled a Super 8s football contest at the exact same time as the World Cup final (two weeks ago). Or the time they neglected a considerable amount of Gaelic sports fans by putting an amateur sport behind a paywall in the form of a TV rights deal with Sky Sports (ongoing). Oh, and of course that time they were happy for Irish soccer and rugby to go homeless but for a national outcry and an embarrassing u-turn (2001).
You’d think an organisation of its significance might learn a thing or two from past mistakes.
You’d be wrong.
As the controversy into the hosting of Liam Miller’s testimonial match rumbles on, the GAA have once more come across as uncaring, mean-spirited and depressingly parochial.
Thousands of people want to celebrate a great player in his native Cork. The local soccer ground, Turners Cross, has an insufficient capacity to cater for the volume of spectators that want to share in this moment of reflection and celebration of Liam Miller’s life and career.
There is another stadium nearby, owned by the GAA, with a capacity of 45,000 (6 times that of Turners Cross). A cursory look at the schedule shows that there is no event planned here on the day that the testimonial is due to take place.
What to do, what to do?
Common sense would dictate that regardless of any arbitrary rule your organisation might entertain, that those rules could be relaxed in certain circumstances. The GAA does not have to love soccer to host a soccer event. It could be a once off.
Commercially, it could even benefit the organisation, as it did when Páirc Uí Chaoimh keenly hosted three Ed Sheeran concerts. It offers fans of other sports an opportunity to visit a Gaelic ground that they otherwise might never see, a chance to show off your amateur organisation’s treasure in all its glory.
Liam Miller was a GAA man. As a youngster, he had played with the Éire Óg club and even lined out at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on one occasion. He represented his country 21 times and after having played for massive clubs like Manchester United and Glasgow Celtic, he returned to his homeland and joined up with Cork City.
The Cork County board were apparently receptive to the idea of Páirc Uí Chaoimh playing host to the fixture. The mayor of Cork, Mick Finn, appealed to the GAA’s “sense of community”. And Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, speaking on RTE One Radio was correct in saying that 99 per cent of the country wants this game to go ahead in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
But the GAA has so far been unmoved.
Rather than approaching the situation from a place of compassion and with a willingness to help, the GAA instead referred to the inflexibility of their rulebook and in particular, the rule regarding the playing of other sports in Gaelic grounds, stating:
“The GAA is prohibited in rule from hosting games other than those under the control of the Association in its stadia and grounds. Only a change at Annual Congress can alter this situation. Congress takes place in February each year.”
In other words, we’d love to help but our hands are tied. So much for a sense of community. But of course, given that the GAA rules are formed, edited and reformed by the GAA itself, there is absolutely no reason that an exception could not be made for Liam Miller’s testimonial.
And on an individual basis, many GAA members have expressed a willingness to allow this event to go ahead at a Gaelic ground. But as the collective, faceless entity that is the GAA, red tape has blocked progress at every turn.
According to the latest statement, GAA officials met with the testimonial’s organisers on Tuesday in a bid to thrash out some sort of agreement. The GAA are now “further considering the proposal”.
At this point, even if Páirc Uí Chaoimh does become the venue for the match, the good really has been taken out of it by the callousness of the GAA reaction.
Consider the matter from the point of view of Liam Miller’s family. His widow, children, siblings and parents have suffered an unimaginable loss. The testimonial was supposed to be an opportunity to support them in their mourning, financially and otherwise. It was supposed to be an opportunity for the people of Ireland to express their affection for a great sportsman who is sorely missed. That the PR wing of the GAA allowed this situation to become a fiasco is, frankly, unforgivable.
Sometimes rules can get in the way of doing the right thing. This is one of those occasions. For an organisation that regularly espouses its commitment to community and inclusivity, they have once again proven that they are nothing but talk.