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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.

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