Gerry Adams told me on Monday in New York that he misses Martin McGuinness at different moments, one of them when watching major GAA games and texting back and forth on their phones.

Both were intensely interested in Ireland’s native sports of Gaelic football and hurling, and McGuinness would never have any problem ribbing Adams about how superior Derry were to Antrim.

There are 100 political reasons why Adams misses his former partner in peace, but it is not surprising sport is one of them.

To understand Gerry Adams, the former leader of Sinn Féin, it helps to understand a man who is happiest at some football or hurling venue watching grandkids play the ancient Irish games. Like any proud grandparent, he scrolls through his social media replete with pictures of the grandkids and happy moments.

Like many over a lifetime, he has come to understand deeply how the GAA has been a forceful example of all that is best in Irish life. Nowhere else in the world do total amateurs such as GAA players attract millions every year to their sports.

But it is the friendships that GAA followers forge, so critical during the years that the nationalist community was under siege, that makes the GAA such a phenomenon.

Talking about Martin McGuinness: Beauty an Oileáin: The Good Friday Agreement and Sue Ramsay
Sue recalls: Every day I made a point of saying good morning or hello to anyone I met ... Usually I got a mixed response ...

— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) March 27, 2023

Adams, in New York for two events – a Good Friday Agreement commemoration on Monday, and the Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation dinner on Tuesday – meets me at his hotel wearing an Antrim GAA jersey. A diehard supporter, he lives for the day when the men of Belfast and the Glens will come sweeping into Croke Park and win a football or hurling All-Ireland.

I think he will be older than Methuselah by the time that happens. He talks of the urgent need for a five-year plan and a youth learning and development center but he's not talking about politics for once, only sport.

We turn to his astonishing Twitter feed, where 210,00 follow him, a 74-year-old bookish agitator for a united Ireland for his people.

Experts tell him most of his followers are from the Generation Z bracket, often known as “zoomers,” who according to the stereotypes prefer gamer pursuits to having a life.

But the fact that Adams has such a large following also shows the young are full of political idealism and the desire to be part of a movement.

Adams has created a political party north and south that reaches those idealistic young. In the process, Sinn Féin looks very likely to be the largest party in both parts of Ireland after the next election.

But Adams says there will be no time to rest on their laurels. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the current government in the Republic, will hold fast to their role as the two largest parties over the past 100 years in Irish politics.

So it will not be a cakewalk to power, far from it, but Adams is still sanguine about the chances.

On unionism, he feels a large part of the division in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) at present is between their politicians on the ground in Northern Ireland and the 10 or so Westminster MPs who are sucked in by the perks of power and see no reason to give them up.

Adams remains wary of DUP intentions, but the longer the party procrastinates, the tougher it will be for them. The DUP could be facing a Sinn Féin Irish government north and south and a Labour government in Britain that will be far less sympathetic to them.

Over 50 years have passed since The Troubles started and Adams has become the iconic figure, loved and hated but always pivoting to meet the next crisis and douse or light the flames. He is almost there, having set up with McGuinness a structure that looks likely to propel them to power. 

With his massive profile and ability to circumvent whatever pitfalls are put in his way, this is a time when Adams can see the finish line. Absolutely no one deserves to reach it more. 

*This column first appeared in the April 5 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.