The GAA, The Premier League and Masculinity

Yesterday afternoon much of Ireland was rightly enraptured by what sounded like one of the greatest All-Ireland hurling semi-finals in a long time between Galway and Tipperary. Increasingly, as one follows the action live on television, you might cast a cursory glance at your twitter feed to see live reaction to the game. I like doing this, especially to get a sense of a game I’m not watching. As many watched the hurling, I followed it on twitter, while watching the Manchester City and Chelsea game on a live stream here in my apartment in Prague.

One of the tweets which came to my attention during the matches was this one:

When it was flagged I briefly mentioned that this sort of attitude had been around pretty much since the start of the GAA, which was only partially true. As an attitude its been especially strong since the formation of the Irish Free State, and has been increasingly prevalent in what we now must shame-facedly call “the Premier League era”. The great irony here being of course that the Irish love affair with English football has only deepened in this period, even if we have apparently contracted something of the distaste for the way “foreigners” are ruining the game with their diving.

There are several masculine ideals competing here at once – on the one hand an appreciation for what we might designate home nations masculinity of hard tackling “proper” football best expressed in the exultation of the classic hard-man centre-back and centre-midfielder of the 1980s and early 1990s. On the other, the distinctly Irish masculinity set in opposition to English softness and the apparent lack of physicality in English football (England here welcoming in its effete foreign national footballing migrants for the purposes of Irish exceptionalism).

While it might seem a touch unfair to spend time unpacking a tweet – something which by its purposefully ephemeral nature should not be taken overseriously, nonetheless the attitude expressed in this particular tweet is indicative of a general viewpoint held by some that has long roots in the anti-foreign games mentality of the GAA of old that only Gaelic games, and especially hurling, are truly representative of a hypermasculine ideal of Irishness that is exclusive in its very formation. This tweet was a 21st century version of what one newspaper columnist who wrote in the 1920s felt when writing:

‘Rugby and Soccer’, says another ‘are played all over the world.’ Even were this so, were they played in also in a score of the nearest planets it would be no reason for their encouragement here. But they are not. Outside ‘Mother England’ these games are cultivated only where the Colonial mind prevails, and elsewhere by little coteries of Anglo-maniacs only . . . The only consistent side the advocates of secession show is their abject devotion to the aim of Anglicisation.

The length of space may be different, but the ideas are much the same – whether it’s “dying” for your county, or escaping a “colonial” mindset, it seems in this case that past and present are not such foreign countries after all.

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