Why this Irish American loves the GAA in Ireland


Why watch a game when, whether due to the luck of extraordinary genes, the drudgery of a life of constant training to the exclusion of all else, the use of performance enhancing drugs or a mixture of all three, there is scarcely a player the average fan can truly identify with? 

Dedicated fans of professional sports in the United States and of English Premiership soccer can certainly articulate reasoned responses to each of these three questions.  Yet each remains.

The sports fan in me came back to life that night in Galway.  Here were athletes who train regularly and commute long distances to do so in many cases, perform at a very high level and don’t get paid a cent. 

They, and male and female participants just like them around the country, are teachers, lawyers, tradesmen and women, doctors, nurses, engineers, Gardaí (policemen and policewomen), publicans.  The GAA is their avocation and they play for love, not money.

This is not to say that the GAA is perfect.  The players, management and supporters are not always sportsmanlike.  There is a creeping sense of professionalism, which is perhaps understandable given the extraordinary sacrifices made by players with no immediately tangible financial benefit.  County boards and management increasingly take a business-like approach to their decision making processes. 

As for the games themselves, incessant tweaking of the rules and a stubborn refusal to employ technology as a bulwark against referees’ capacity for human error sometimes make a mess of things.

These faults notwithstanding, the GAA remains an institution that unwaveringly and unapologetically seeks to preserve the highest ideals of sport at the highest level of competitive play.  That’s why I love it.

I am still a committed Boston sports fan and make an effort to watch my home teams and keep up with developments from afar.  But on Sundays from June through the third week in September – in Monroe’s in Galway, McGann’s in Boston, Flanagan’s outside Washington, DC, Fitzpatrick’s in Wicklow or wherever in the world I find myself – I’ll more than likely be in the local GAA pub watching attentively, especially if Galway’s playing!

Larry Donnelly’s friends and relations in Galway wonder if he has imported his own “Boston Curse,” given the county’s many misfortunes since his arrival in 2001.