I am the casual GAA fan and these are my rights, as laid out in the Treoir Oifiguil of the association. I have the right not to remain silent. I have the right to criticise players who’ve spent ten years of their lives preparing for any championship match I attend on summer Sundays when I’m not watching Formula One, tennis or golf. I have the right to call into question their commitment to training and the size of their hearts and testicles when under pressure. I’ve the right to ignore all the evidence that suggests they are the most hard-working generation of sportsmen the association has ever produced.
I have the right to wonder about the fitness of individuals who’ve been in the gym for the best part of a decade. I have the right to lambaste the stamina of men who’ve been running up hills for six months. I’ve the right to question the hunger of guys who’ve put their lives on hold to try to be good enough to play senior for the county. I’ve the right to speculate loudly in pub toilets about whether a player is too fond of the drink and the women and the publicity to be truly interested in the good of the county team. If the mood takes me, I’ve the right to bring this speculation to the message board Mujahideens to see what they think.
I have the right to question the ability of players whose names I didn’t even know until I read the dummy team named in the previous Thursday’s paper. I have the right to declare the manager is picking the wrong individuals even though I couldn’t name a single player who is better than those who are out there. I have the right to write off the manager as the puppet of the county board even though he hasn’t talked to the board secretary in years. I have the right to denounce the manager as somebody who knows nothing even if he’s been coaching teams to all sorts of success for the past decade. If he’s an outsider, I have the right to accuse the manager of only being in it for the money/expenses.
I have the right to wonder why somebody was picked for the championship on league form even though I was too busy watching the Premier League all winter to ever get to a league game myself. I have the right to wonder why somebody was picked following good displays for their club because I haven’t seen a club match in donkey’s years and I’d struggle to name the last three county champions. I have the right to come up with all manner of ludicrous conspiracy theories about why the selectors are picking certain individuals and favouring certain clubs even though there is no actual evidence to support any of these views.
I have the right to make definitive pronouncements about controversial incidents that took place a hundred yards from where I was sitting or standing during the game. I have the right to indict players for making mistakes even though I watched the game after a few pints so my judgment and view might have been clouded a bit by the alcohol. No matter. I have the right to declare a player spineless or cowardly or vicious or all of the above because I half-saw something he was involved in down in the far corner, at least I think it was him.
I have the right to moan about the quality of my tickets for the match even though this is the first time I’ve seen the county play since last summer’s big day out. I have the right to declare I will not be going to the back-door qualifier matches because those games aren’t the real championship – sure they’re not even on the telly most of the time. I have the right to reserve the right to get back interested if the team emerges from those qualifiers and reaches an All-Ireland quarter-final or better. Indeed, I also have the right then to complain if I have to make more than one phone call to a corporate contact seeking out tickets for the final.
I have the right to leave the match early if my team is losing so we can get back to the pub to watch the golf/tennis on the television, or to beat the traffic. I have the right to spend the journey home complaining that the players of today don’t care as much about the shirt as the players of the past. I have the right to put all our troubles down to having too many city players on the team if I’m from the country. I have the right to put all our troubles down to having too many country players on the team if I’m from the city.
I have the right to loudly declare there’s nothing coming through from under-age even though I missed the minor match because I was sleeping off a hangover from last night. I have the right to ask what in God’s name they are teaching the young players even though I haven’t seen an under-age or a schools match since I played in one. I have the right to slam the “modern” training methods being used even though I haven’t attended a county training session since I was a kid.
I have the right to do all this while skulling pints and quaffing bags of chips before and after the game. I have the right to do all this while wondering why I stopped playing altogether at 16 when the training got a little tough and began to interfere with my studying/teenage drinking/socialising. I have the right to do all this while carrying around a pregnant beer belly that stretches every fibre of the O’Neill’s jersey as it struggles to cover the vast expanse of my flesh. I have the right to do all this because I am the casual GAA fan in high summer and these are my games.