Amo flicks the switch on GAA’s foreign future

This flick and score, in the most northerly game of Gaelic football ever played, is a seminal moment in the history of Gaelic games. It says little of where we have come from, but a whole lot about where we are going.

The first time I played with Amarilio Vasconcelos Mendonca – or Amo for short – was in Estonia this summer, as I made a guest appearance for his Oulu Elks side.

Having only played the game for four months his tactical understanding was a bit limited, but what wasn’t in doubt was his passion, skill and athleticism. Amo – like all the Elks – wants to win, and he wants to do it NOW.

He doesn’t want to hang around learning about blanket defences and tactical fouling. He wants to get the ball in his hands by any means possible, and fire points like this one – one of the most-watched GAA clips of the year.

Nor does Amo care that his kit doesn’t come out of the O’Neills catalogue, or that his team-mates haven’t got ten years of junior B football behind them. He is not weighed down by the burden of history and tradition that sometimes – often – holds us back.

All Amo wants to do is get on with it.

I wrote a book about starting a club here in Stockholm, but I’d almost be willing to bet that Oulu is an even more remarkable story. Not just for where they came from, but where they may take us.

European GAA is about to make another major step as Guernsey GAA take on a team from Carlow in the Leinster Intermediate club championship, but compared to the Elks, it leaves me cold.

It’s not that I don’t want Guernsey to succeed – I do.

But for those of us abroad, the future of Gaelic football and hurling is not in Ireland – it is in Europe, America, Asia, Africa.

It is wherever the Amos of this world allow their curiosity to be awakened, and they bring their skills to the game that used to be ours, but now belongs to the world.

Frankly, I don’t care if I never see a 15-a-side game in Europe. We have difficutly enough getting facilities and sponsorship as it is, so 15-a-side pitches with goals and nets are a long way off.

I’d much rather see the GAA and the rest of us accept that the way forward is the 11-a-side game that we currently play.

Amo and the Elks have shown us that it can be just as beautiful and passionate and enthralling as the 15-man game, and with four less players on the team it gives the likes of Amo more time on the ball.

And having seen what he can do in the few seconds of the above clip, who wouldn’t want to see more of that?

Ireland’s all-you-can-cheat attitude

There is a brilliant deflection going on in the wake of an outburst by Joe Brolly, the Gaelic football pundit, who let Seán Cavanagh have it with both barrels over an opportunist, cynical spot of cheating that arguably cost Monaghan a good crack at an All-Ireland semi-final.

Now the merits (such as they are) of the rules of Gaelic football can be debated elsewhere – the only point that interests me is the reaction to them, and what they say about the national psyche.

The first is that Seán Cavanagh is a good, sporting man of long standing, which may of course be true. What it ignores is that in this one instance he hauled a man down to ensure he wouldn’t score a goal.

The point is, as it is in many other areas of Irish life, that good people can do bad things fro good reasons. It’s neither an excuse for the bad behaviour, nor a shield to hide behind.

The wider issue is the idea that he did nothing wrong – if he did, the rules would be harsher. This, my sporting friends, is light-touch regulation in a nutshell.

Whole teams, seasons and eras are now being built upon the idea that a cynical foul is OK if the victory is achieved – that cheating is now somehow part of doing your best.

As the Anglo tapes show us, this extends from the practice fields of our GAA clubs to the boardrooms of our financial institutions, and indeed the corridors of Leinster House.

There is no longer any place for fair play or sportsmanship – all that matters is winning, getting your own way, and breaking (not bending – breaking) the rules is OK, as long as you get what you want.

It’s not. One of the major reasons sports exist is to teach morons like my good self to have some sort of a moral compass.

Sport has shown me that I can never be the best at anything, but within the rules and the spirit of fair play, I can be the best I can be.

That has on occasion brought medals and joy, more often than not it brings huge disappointment, but it has given me more throughout my life than I could ever possibly return.

And in particular I remember those times I cheated, got booked, played dirty, fought with my opponent, got sent off or otherwise let myself and my team down.

Those are among the most shameful moments in my life, but in and of themselves they do not make me a bad man – not least because I have tried to learn from them.

So in the debate that will rage over Brolly’s comments, it’s worth remembering – one honest victory is worth a thousand hollow wins achieved by cheating.

And whether the rules say that it was a yellow card or a red card or a black card makes no difference – Cavanagh could be Mahatma Gandhi, but what he did in that instance was wrong.

It was cheating, it was unsporting and whatever the rules say, he knew it.

Deep down, Seán Cavanagh, Joe Brolly and plenty of other great sportsmen and women can probably agree that in sport, as in life, the only real victory is to play fair.