independent

Monday 19 November 2018

'The propinquity between G.A.A. and politics has always been strong and it is no different in our own county, especially given the present climate.' G.A.A. and politics - the unbreakable bond

IN THE early fifties, Clann na Poblachta's Se‡n MacBride convened a special meeting in Dublin one Saturday to discuss the National Question. Delegates from all over the country attended, debated and argued - for so long in fact, that the meeting was adjourned until the following

IN THE early fifties, Clann na Poblachta's Se‡n MacBride convened a special meeting in Dublin one Saturday to discuss the National Question. Delegates from all over the country attended, debated and argued - for so long in fact, that the meeting was adjourned until the following day.

Some time during the next afternoon, MacBride noticed that the Kerry delegates in the room had quickly and silently taken their leave. He asked the renowned republican from the west, Mairt’n î Cadhain, where they had disappeared to and was told that they had left to watch the All-Ireland football semi-final between Kerry and Mayo, scheduled for that afternoon.

MacBride couldn't understand this and the story goes that it was at that point that î Cadhain realised that MacBride would never make it in politics.

What MacBride failed to realise was the intrinsic link between politics and the G.A.A. that was so apparent then, and had been for many years. It was especially significant that it was the actions of a group of Kerrymen which had so confused him, considering the intimacy between G.A.A. and politics in Kerry - from Dan Spring then, to Jimmy Deenihan and Martin Ferris today, both of whom played on the same county Under-21 football team.

Strange then, that the recently-elected Se‡n Kelly is the first G.A.A. President to hail from the Kingdom, something which he admitted last week was 'a crying shame'. His declaration, however, that logistical difficulties were to blame for this is amusing.

The propinquity between G.A.A. and politics has always been strong and it is no different in our own county, especially given the present climate. Current Wexford hurling manager, Tony Dempsey, is seeking election to the D‡il this year; sitting TDs John Browne and Hugh Byrne have played inter-county hurling and football, while former Labour deputy, Brendan Corish, played football for the county for many years.

Of course, all this does not necessarily ensure that those who make their name in G.A.A. are a sure bet for Leinster House - Billy Rackard, for example, once sought election and failed - but it demonstrates that the political spin doctors have a habit of targeting individuals who are already very familiar to the people of the county through their feats with the county's G.A.A. teams. The names of Liam Griffin, George O'Connor and Tony Doran have all been bantered about in the months before previous elections, for example.

It seems, however, that Se‡n Kelly and his county colleagues have a bit of catching up to do with Wexford when it comes to making an impression in Ireland's second-greatest political arena. The Model County has had the fortune of having two men who have served the post of President of Cumann Lœthchleas Gael with distinction - Patrick Breen and Michael Kehoe - both of whom made a considerable impression during their times on and off the field.

P.D. Breen, a native on Carrig-on-Bannow, had a distinguished playing career. He won Junior, Intermediate and Senior Dublin football championship medals with Bray Emmets and also won an All-Ireland medal with the same club when they won the right to contest the 1902 football final.

When he returned home, he began teaching in Castlebridge, where he helped the local club to win several county Senior hurling titles. He played with the Wexford Senior football and hurling teams from 1904 to 1914 - missing out on the All-Ireland hurling win in 1910 when he gave up his position to a man he considered stronger and more experienced than himself - and he was on the Wexford team that lost the 1914 All-Ireland football final to Kerry.

Breen served as G.A.A. President from 1924 to 1926 and held a variety of other administrative positions, both at county and national level. He first came to national prominence as an administrator, however, at Congress in 1922 when he spoke out strongly against the infamous Ban.

The second Wexford man was Michael Kehoe, a native of Enniscorthy, who became President in 1949 and remained in the position for three years.

After stints teaching in Carrick-on-Suir and Emo in Co. Laois, he returned to Wexford, where he was appointed principal at Glynn National School in 1929. He immediately became involved in the administration of Wexford G.A.A. and progressed up the ranks until he was elected President of the Association some 20 years later.

During his time as President, he established firm links with Irish emigrants in the U.S.A., making a number of very successful visits there. He was also regarded as a true G.A.A. traditionalist and in contrast to his predecessor, was a firm supporter of the Ban.

Whatever your views on either, however, both left an indelible mark on the history of our association. Kerry may only be starting out, but it is 50 years ago this year since a Wexford man last captained the boat. Maybe it is time we made our mark again.

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