13 June 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

TThe importance of the GAA to the Irish social engine is indisputable.
From its very beginnings the Association has laid legitimate claim to territory beyond the demarcations of the playing field, drawing to itself a governance of influence on aspects of life that are interwoven with how we define what it is to be Irish.
It has facilitated, and often battled to preserve, the identifying distinctiveness of our language and forms of cultural expression – and it has provided an interlocking structure that has enabled our social building blocks of townlands and parishes, villages and towns, to both lay claim to independence of character and come together to function smoothly as communities.
The centrality of GAA clubs to life in the areas where they have developed is perhaps not so much taken for granted in this country nowadays as left largely unremarked because of its patent self-evidence – it is now more often, perhaps, the unifying force the Association exercises for our diaspora communities that conspicuously serves to remind us of its abiding influence.
The attendance of National GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail at Monday’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council, however, brought the importance of Gaelic games back home in quite a literal way.
The inherent auspiciousness of the occasion was enhanced by the Cavan roots and Monaghan connections of Uachtarán Ó Fearghail – and perhaps too by the sense of imminent high achievement that animates the imaginations of followers of our county football team (whose number encompasses many of the Council’s elected and official men and women) towards dreams of provincial glory and the Elysium that could lie beyond!
A piquancy of timing was also invited by the topicality and sense of urgency attaching to the main issue which councillors sought to explore with the President – the retention of St Tiernach’s Park in Clones as the venue for the Ulster Football Finals.
The mounting sense of concern that the major redevelopment of Belfast’s Casement Park will jeopardise the status of the Clones venue in the provincial pantheon of stadia was reflected in the comments of the members, who admirably spoke from the head as well as from their understandably partisan hearts, citing the considerable practical advantages possessed by St Tiernach’s for the hosting of the Ulster showpiece as well as the more emotional bonds that traditional and atmosphere have wrought between place and occasion.
Mr Ó Fearghail’s sympathetic but measured response to the representations showed him ably suited for the demands of an office that requires uncommon resources of both diplomacy and decisiveness. He assured the members that Clones had “nothing to fear” if the troubled Casement Park redevelopment eventually reached full flower, and that the GAA had no intention of abandoning the Co Monaghan venue, as a second major stadium in Ulster was patently required.
However, the President also indicated that a stadium of the stature of what is envisaged for Belfast would likely host a future Ulster Final – a statement that might alarm those who presume that habit and tradition should automatically confer an exclusivity of this honour to what a great many Ulster Gaels, by no means all of them from this county, have come to regard as the spiritual home of the provincial decider.
But while Gaelic sport stirs passion and sentiment to fever pitch in its followers, those who administer the game would not last long if they formulated their decisions using the language of the heart. The forward-thinking agenda outlined by Mr Ó Fearghail in his more general comments on Monday carried the implicit message that some traditions are finite, and must be dispensed with if the Association is to progress in tandem with the times.
This is not to argue – or to suggest for a moment that the GAA President was arguing – that Clones should accept a loss of automatic entitlement to the hosting of the Ulster Final.
It is rather to urge that, in the fight to keep that entitlement, those in the Clones corner should accept the probable future reality of a major Belfast venue as a rival for the key provincial fixtures – and rely less on the claims of tradition and sentiment that on the enhancement of the considerable advantages that their venue brings with it into a future environment where competition for the big matches is a great deal more keener than it was in the past.
The fact that a Croke Park committee has been put in place to work with the Ulster Council and the Clones club on the development of St Tiernach’s Park is more than an evidence of the new GAA President’s bona fides – it is a golden opportunity for those pressing the Clones case to expedite what are acknowledged as long overdue improvements to the local stadium.
The evident good will among the members and executive of Monaghan Co Council should be translated into close consultation with the town club and the provincial administrators to ensure that any planning hurdles to the stadium’s improvement are early identified and surmounted, and that all possible funding sources are researched and explored.
If the Clones venue can complete its own programme of enhancement before the Casement saga arrives at its conclusion, it will be in a much better position to contend with the competition that will ensue from the Belfast quarter – and will be able to broaden the already considerable good will St Tiernach’s enjoys among Ulster football followers by enhancing further their experience of attending big matches at the venue.
And the fighters of the Clones cause, should they encounter any impediment to progressing the needed developments, might have useful recourse to the comments made at Monday’s meeting by Monaghan Co Council Chief Executive Eugene Cummins.
Mr Cummins seemed to strike a compelling argumentative balance between the practical and the passionate when he spoke of some significant reciprocatory investment being due the Clones venue in light of the contribution it had made during the course of the troubled years of Northern conflict in preserving a connecting bridge between Border communities.
“When you are making hard decisions on investment for the future,” the Chief Executive told the GAA President, “I hope you will think of what was done by St Tiernach’s Park in the past and you will be part of making the facility even greater than it is.”
Clones has many legitimate claims to continue as the major venue of Ulster football – now is the time for all those in its corner to press them home.

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