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Sport can and will drive us to drink -- Government may ban alcohol companies from sponsoring Irish sports events and teams

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Jason Whelan of Ballymun Kickhams celebrates with teammate Ted Furman.
Jason Whelan of Ballymun Kickhams celebrates with teammate Ted Furman.

There's a rumor doing the rounds in Dublin at the minute that the Irish government is about to ban alcohol companies from sponsoring sports events and teams.

It’s a story that has been knocking around for some time now, a topic that prompts much debate in GAA circles alone where Guinness have been sponsors of the hurling championship for years.

Many GAA pundits, Dr. Mick Loftus being one of the most animated, have a real problem with beer companies pumping money into an association that does so much for the youth of Ireland.

On the other side of the fence, those in favor of the power of the beer dollar argue that many GAA clubs all across the land wouldn’t survive without the bars in their clubhouses that provide the finance to keep them going on an annual basis.

The clubhouse, like the club itself, is the focal point of many communities in Ireland, and any club bar worth its salt is worth more than money alone to GAA club members.

How the government marries the idea of banning beer sponsorship money from a sport where several clubs require the takings in their bars just to survive promises to be an interesting debate in the weeks and months ahead as this story gains momentum.

In the meantime, there’s a story last weekend from the All-Ireland club football semifinal -- a tournament sponsored by the state-rescued bank AIB by the way -- that deserves retelling.

And then I’ll tell you about my own soccer and alcohol story from last week when I grew very agitated with a bunch of Italians masquerading as footballers on the pub screen in front of me.

Last Saturday the Ballymun Kickhams team managed by former Dublin footballer Paul Curran took on the might of Kerry champions Dr. Crokes in the All-Ireland club semifinal and beat them, Colm Cooper et al.

The win was a surprise to everyone bar the most devoted Ballymun fans and they celebrated in style on and off the field in Semple Stadium, the Thurles ground traditionally known as the home of hurling.

Some journalistic colleagues were on the pitch after the game, interviewing players and coaches from both sides as is the norm in a GAA match of such importance at club level.

As they went about their business, a Ballymun fan without as much as a shirt on his back and with his hair dyed in the red and green of his beloved club was doing his best to make his voice heard.

Beer can in hand, he had one message to share with anyone who would listen according to my colleagues who were eyewitnesses to the story.

“F*** the parade, f*** the parade” he repeated over and over again as it dawned on him that Ballymun’s next big game, against St. Brigid’s of Roscommon, will clash with his annual visit to the parade that marks St. Patrick’s Day in our fair capital.

The story may appear trite to those who live in the world of super stars and major league sport, but it sums up something very unique about the GAA and the relationship that exists between clubs and communities.

On St. Patrick’s Day next month, that Ballymun man and many more like him will have the perfect excuse to go to Croke Park for our national day and enjoy their club’s participation on the biggest stage available to them.

They may even have a beer or two in the course of their day’s entertainment, and their team will certainly wear the name of the famous Autobahn pub on their jersey, but what’s the harm in all of that?  

Will it lead anyone to alcoholism? Will it cause anyone to die from alcoholic poison? Will it lead to any more deaths on our roads from alcohol related accidents?

I don’t know and I really don’t have an answer on the subject yet as the country prepares for a serious debate on alcoholic manufacturers and their right to sponsor sports events. I need time to think about it.
What I can tell you is that soccer drove me to drink last week, just before I gave it up for Lent, and not for the first time.

On pancake Tuesday, enjoying a rare night off work and with a lift to and from the Arch Bar in Dunshaughlin, I settled down to watch Celtic against Juventus in the company of one Arthur Guinness.

Thank God the game was played before Lent had begun. Celtic never deserved to win the match thanks to some schoolboy errors, but the defensive tactics employed by the Juve players, particularly on corners and on Gary Hooper, were enough to drive a man to drink. And they did!

I’ve been off it ever since, using Lent as an excuse, but at least those few pints nullified the frustrations of watching Juventus play like that.

Even thinking about it now has me yearning for a pint.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views

GAA: Shane Curran is the larger than life 42-year-old goalkeeper who plays with the St. Brigid’s club and used to play for Roscommon. He is also a great character whose celebration at the end of Saturday’s win over Crossmaglen in the All-Ireland made many of our papers in photographic terms.

Minutes before that shot was taken, Curran was upended when his face came into contact with an opposition player as he celebrated a Brigid’s goal at the other end of the field.

Not that he holds a grudge towards the opponent who left him with a bloody nose. He told RTE, “We got the goal, and it’s an emotional time when you get a goal in the dying minutes of a match and as I was going back I think I might have run into a lad’s hand.

“I don’t know whether he meant it or not but it certainly connected with a rather big nose anyhow. I didn’t even see him being sent off. I was on the ground!”

Now that’s a tale Curran will get to tell for many years to come.

GAA: There were some strange sights on GAA fields over the weekend. In Wexford, the county under-21 had to call a halt to training for a few minutes on Sunday when a camel ran onto the pitch. The animal, it transpired, was from a circus based nearby.

Then on Sunday, up the road in County Meath, players from Donaghmore and Seneschalstown forgot their league rivalry when they came together to push an ambulance after it got stuck on the sodden pitch after an injury to a player. Teamwork they call it.

GAA: The Gaelic games family lost another stalwart last weekend when legendary RTE broadcaster Sean Og O Ceallachain died at the age of 89. For those of us of a certain age, Sunday evenings were never the same without Sean Og’s round-up of GAA results from around the country. Having met him on more than one occasion, I can also confirm that he was a gentleman.

HURLING: Henry Shefflin’s injury problems are reported elsewhere in the Irish Voice, with Kilkenny boss Brian Cody unsure when the great man will be back, but back he will be. History beckons for Shefflin next summer, and don’t bet against him winning a record 10th All-Ireland title with the Cats, injury or no injury.

RUGBY: Ireland will be without Jonny Sexton, Tommy Bowe, Cian Healy, Mike McCarthy, Simon Zebo and Gordon D’Arcy for a variety of reasons when they play Scotland in Edinburgh on Sunday, a game Declan Kidney has to win apparently to keep his job beyond the summer. Not much to ask, is it?

SOCCER: You gotta love the name of the English defender who’s just signed for Airtricity League side Limerick – he’s called Robbie Williams. Does he say “take that” when he makes a tackle? Sorry.

HERO OF THE WEEK

You just know Neil Lennon has a point when he lambasts a referee for his poor performance and UEFA don’t punish him for it. The Celtic boss was dead right to question the Spanish official’s performance in charge of their Champions League showdown with Juventus last week when his team should have had at least one penalty. They were never going to win the game, but at least their manager was brave enough to speak the truth afterwards. The fact UEFA didn’t punish him means they know Lennon was telling the truth as well.

IDIOTS OF THE WEEK

The flag protests in Northern Ireland took a turn on Saturday when loyalists caused the North Belfast derby between Cliftonville and Crusaders at Seaview to be postponed. What a protest about a Union Jack flag has to do with a football match is still beyond me. Surely they can make their point elsewhere.

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