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The GAA club championships are our World Cup

Eight teams get to enter Croke Park and live their dreams this weekend.

The football World Cup is the greatest sporting competition in the world. Football is the game whose influence is felt in every corner of the globe and the World Cup is the competition that is open to all. It is unlikely that Jules Rimet could have foreseen the behemoth he was creating when he first floated the idea of a World Cup down the FIFA corridors back in 1928. There was nobility in the idea of players making arduous journeys across the globe to represent their homelands.

How would he feel about the tournament now?

The actual football, the contest between nations, is still the purest form of professional football but greed has long since overtaken the competition with the result that the tournament becomes increasingly commercialised with each passing edition. FIFA may sell the expansion of the competition to 48 teams as opening up the tournament to countries for whom a seat at the party was previously a pipe dream but the reality, as we all know, is that in FIFA today, change is only motivated by votes and money. Closer to home, we are lucky to have something purer to savour.

No one can adequately describe Irish life who ignores the Gaelic Athletic Association
– Patrick Kavanagh (Poet and Iniskeen goalkeeper)

The GAA club championships are the greatest sporting competitions in Ireland. Many sports deservedly command the attention of our public but only the GAA reaches into every corner of Ireland in a way that no other sport or societal element can compare to. It is in every city, town, parish and half parish. A greater proportion of our people have a connection to their local GAA club than to any other organisation on our island. The GAA is far from a perfect entity but the club championships do shine a light on the best of the organisation.

To bring All-Ireland Club Championships to Junior and Intermediate is absolutely brilliant. It affords lads the opportunity to live the dream and potentially tog out with your club in Croke Park – it’s a great thing
– Eddie Brennan

Like the World Cup, the club championships have seen expansion since their original inception in 1971. Unlike the World Cup, their expansion has actually been driven by inclusivity. In 2004, the competitions were opened up to Junior and Intermediate clubs and suddenly an All-Ireland final in Croke Park was a dream that all GAA players could aspire to. A great concept became a perfect one. The gates of the GAA’s cathedral were thrown open.

This weekend, it is the turn of eight more teams from around Ireland to make the trip to headquarters and live their dream. The games will be played in a sparsely populated Croke Park but everybody in attendance will be truly invested and affected by the outcomes. Can we say the same about the masses that will descend on the same venue in August this year? Without these competitions, could a hurler from Castleblayney ever have really imagined his club playing in Croke Park? Could teams from London, Carlow and Westmeath have dreamed of winning hurling All-Irelands at the same venue?

Could Patrick Kavanagh have imagined a day when his Iniskeen would be crowned champions of Ireland?

One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it.
– Knute Rockne

There is a possibly apocryphal story that has done the rounds in hurling circles of an All-Ireland Intermediate hurling semi-final from a few years ago. As the game entered its dying embers, a well-known inter-county hurler became entangled with an opponent. This disagreement attracted some additional contestants until it became what Micheál Ó hÉiher would have termed a ‘shemozzle’. The games result had long since been decided against the county player’s team and frustration was the order of his day. As the referee called the original two perpetrators to order and began to shuffle the cards in his deck, the county player made an impassioned plea in favour of his adversary, imploring the referee to show leniency as victory that day was likely to give his opponent his one chance at an outing in Croke Park to represent his parish. This is another unique feature of the intermediate and junior competitions. With promotion within your county achieved, the chances are you will only get one chance at ultimate glory.

The referee acquiesced to the players request and produced a pair of yellows from his deck.

This is the GAA. These are the club championships. Sport and sportsmanship in its purest form.

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