The Tackle in Gaelic Football
It is Sunday, so please indulge my inclination to talk about sport. For a more erudite and funny take on Sundays, I refer the jury to yer man’s book [good idea; helps pay the rent – Ed.]. His take on the subject starts with the line, “Agus ar an seachtú lá, chruthaigh Dia an Domhnach mar, go bunúsach, ní raibh smaointe maithe ar bith fágtha aici,” which is a fairly strong opening gambit, you’d have to admit.
“But why sport as a subject on a Sunday?” wonders Smart Boy from the back of the class, where I have placed him to try to get him out of my way. “Why not religion?” And the answer to that is because I am a Catholic, and if you cannot see what I did there, you are wearing your covidnovid mask too far up your face. Please note my (correct) use of the term for the sect I belong to, by birth and by inclination: I am not now, and never have been, a Roman Catholic, and as for what people mean when they deploy the explosive term Irish Catholic, God alone knows. And she is not telling anyone else. ‘Roman Catholic’ was devised as a term of abuse by Anglicans, and even though it is the term that appears on community monitoring forms in Norn Iron where job applicants are asked to reveal their religious background, I now tick the other box beside it designated ‘Other’, and then explain in the box below that Roman Catholic is a term of abuse and that the official title of the Church with its head bombardier in the Vatican is The Catholic Church. I’m sure they love me, the wee minions who have to read those stupid forms.
Catholic is the answer because, after one gets out of the juvenile ranks of the GAA and into senior competition (a bit like the Fianna and the IRA in that regard: the same rules to both, but there is an increased risk of serious injury in the senior code), the matches are generally on a Sunday. And traditional throw-in time (never kick-off time, be warned!) is 3.30pm. I do not think that these stipulations were conceived to differentiate all things GAA from soccer in England with its traditional kick-off time of 3.00pm on a Saturday, but I would not be too surprised, given the sectarian, racist bigots who instituted them, if that were in fact the origin of them. In a more equanimous mood, I am inclined to think that Sunday was chosen because a lot of the players would not actually be off work on Saturdays – they would be running around doing homers to supplement their meagre Mon-Fri incomes. Also note the qualifier ‘in England’ above, because in poor Catholic countries in other parts of the World, Sunday was the traditional day for soccer too – even in Buenos Aires, which must have caused fixture congestion with the hurling club in that fine city.
So the whole playing GAA on a Sunday thing is not designed (solely) to annoy Northern Protestants with their ‘never on the Sabbath’ mantra. It is, in fact, an attempt to teach them to actually read the Bible they are so fond of misquoting: God never specifically ruled out senior reserve football or hurling games on the seventh day, and had very little to say about junior championship replays either. In fact, all He did say in his best-selling book on the subject was this:
Ar an seachtú lá chríochnaigh Dia an obair a rinne sé. Scoir sé ar an seachtú lá den obair go léir a rinne sé. Bheannaigh agus naomhaigh Dia an seachtú lá mar scoir sé an lá sin den obair go léir a rinne sé sa chruthú. Sin iad céatúsa neimhe agus talún nuair a cruthaíodh iad.
In the original Irish there, to avoid any confusion. But youse can look it up youseselves: it is Genesis 2:2-4, and that is my religious duty as an intinerant monk of the Second Gaelic Illumination done for the day.
Pupils who are not linguistically challenged will note that even God Herself did not abstain totally from work on the Sabbath She was in the process of creating – She did a wee bit of top and tailing in the morning before breakfast to finish off the work of the previous six days. That chríochnaigh there in the first line gives the game away. And, in the rest of the quotation, the significant word is obair, ie ‘work’. Now, whatever about professional sports where participants are paid to participate, no one gets paid for playing GAA, so it cannot in any way be classified as work, and is not, therefore, in any way excluded from the activities available to anyone on a Sunday, even to Protestants. Please inform your nearest one of this Biblical fact. If your nearest one is outside your own county, or more than 20km away (whichever is the greatest distance), leave your address in Comments down there and I will send you one through the post.
The GAA, God bless it, has come up with some sort of road map for how to get its competitions back on the … road. The social distancing thing of 2m, or 1m, has not yet been sorted out, and standing even 1m away from a hurler you are trying to tackle would actually be more dangerous that going into a covidnovid ward with no protective equipment on, so it remains a bit of a problem for Croke Park. I am surprised they have not yet phoned me up to garner my advice on the issue. I would tell them that, as far as football goes, this is not actually a problem but an opportunity. As things stand, no one, particularly referees, knows what the rules are about how to tackle the other guy in Gaelic football. So here we are with yet another benefit of the Kerfuffle: we can now define once and for all what a tackle is in Gaelic football. My copyrighted suggestion is as follows: if the tackler is able to touch elbows with the tacklee in a clear and unequivocal single movement, the tacklee has to give the tackler the ball, and start chasing him.
Hurlers can continue to do their own thing and have no need for rules, about tackling or anything else. They are artists, are engaged in a World Heritage recognised activity and, like all artists, only learn the rules so that they can break them.
For another take on the connection between sport and religion, have a read of Eccles – he is good crack. And ‘crack’ is how you spell that word if you are writing in English, by the way: ‘craic’ is an Irish word, and should be reserved for written material in that language. Happily enough, both words are pronounced the same, but please use air quotes if you are dropping craic into your English conversations. Same goes for agus ceol. Or you will get a yellow card.