Fraternising with the enemy, before the start of the Ireland-France rugby match!

‘Tis justa bitta sport’?

Mrs Youcantbeserious and I have just returned, at the time of writing from what can only be described as a glorious weekend in Marseille. What the Ireland rugby team achieved on the pitch is, for me, another of those never to be forgotten days in what is a wonderful history of Irish sporting occasions. It was the sort of weekend where in future years, the memory will retain a bit of the tingle!

They told us there would be 10,000 Irish fans there, but I would say that if there was half that number, it was the top of it. I suppose there was a bit of a hangover still lingering from the world cup; and Marseille is not a nice city. The one thing for sure is that the few thousand fans who travelled got value for money – and gave it back with interest. ‘The Fields’ could be heard breaking out in pockets all over the stadium and long after the final whistle, none of our fans had left before the team… because that is what we do!

I missed our weekend GAA games at home. We’ll take the somewhat fortunate one point win over Clare in football; but the hurling is still depressing – no matter what gloss is put on it. The gap between Westmeath and the top half dozen counties is as wide as it has ever been for all of my lifetime. Nobody is faulting the effort, but we take no pleasure in calling it out for what it is. Another middle league grade has to be slotted in to give equal competition and entertainment to both players and spectators. We still produce individual hurlers who would get their place on any team; players like Noel Conaty, who was nationally acclaimed for his heroics in defeat. Noel comes from a family who have given so much to the GAA.

Sport has shaped our nation’s destiny – and sport has done the same for other countries as well. Even if you are one of those unfortunate ‘challenged’ individuals who profess ‘no interest in sport’, let me tell you that sport has an interest in you. Without sport, you would not be what you are, or where you are.

The GAA not only promoted our games at home and abroad, but the GAA movement, more than any other group or movement, has moulded Ireland into the country it is today. From the latter part of the 19th century, the GAA fostered pride in what we are as a nation and it became the country’s number one expression of our identity.

This confidence in our identity expanded to leave us surely the greatest sporting nation in the world; where most of us can get behind our rugby team last weekend; our soccer team when things are going better; our boxers, athletes – and just about every international sport we take part in. The country gets behind the green jersey. Do you want me to tell you again when that started?!

Before you start, ‘he’s on his GAA soapbox again’, I’m not. Sport has done the same thing for other nations. Who will ever forget Nelson Mandela when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995? On a visit to that country in 2006, we were taken to a school in the Township. I’ll never forget the passion and emotion of a teacher who told us how committed her students were, ‘because they know the only way out of here is through sport and education’. Sports scholarships do the same for disadvantaged kids in America and some of the great success stories, not confined to sport, have come through that route.

Sticking with rugby for a moment longer – has any sport (outside of Ireland) done more to forge a national identity than rugby has for Wales? And it isn’t even their own game! The most beautiful and stirring national anthem has to be the Welsh in full voice before playing England! (And no, I am not a fan of ‘Ireland’s Call’.) That the Welsh could take an English elite public school game and turn it into a catalyst for the revival of Welsh nationhood tells you everything about the power, influence and glory of sport.

Athletics has done it for Finland, boxing for Cuba – and the list goes on.

Today’s parents are marvellous in how they ‘buggy’ their children to different sports activities several times a week. In the opinion of this humble scribe, young people taking part in sport is more important than high academic results.

Finally, there is our ‘government health warning’. While sport is ‘gan doubt’ an important part of life, it should not become an obsession. Unless you are an elite professional sports person, sport should not be allowed to consume your world; but instead be a part of a rounded, productive life. Like everything else that is good, too much of a good thing is bad!

Don’t Forget

Better for the government to invest money in youth sports facilities than have to build more jails down the road.