103 points for 103 years - Innisfails GAA Club, Gaelic Sunday and Covid-19
Last weekend, we had the welcome announcement that 40,000 fans are to be allowed into Croke Park once again.
This announcement felt like it was a long time coming. Do we dare remember the day it all started, 12th March 2020 when our world stopped. Many of us had never faced anything like this before. For the GAA, its very purpose was ripped out from under them - with no spectators, no games and no gate receipts, the association faced an existential crisis.
The timing of the announcement may be a coincidence but on the anniversary of Gaelic Sunday, it is a timely reminder that this is not the first time the GAA has faced down existential challenges.
In 1918, the outbreak of the so-called Spanish flu affected 80,000 Irish people, and 50 to 100 million globally. Like today, mass gatherings, including GAA games, were put on hold by the then (British) government and sport was severely affected.
At the same time, tensions were rising as the Irish people strongly opposed conscription being imposed by the authorities. This was blamed in part on the GAA. In a pivotal moment, an Ulster Championship match was prevented from taking place in Cootehill by Crown Forces on the 9th July. Subsequently, the authorities attempted to prevent GAA activities by insisting that no matches could take place without prior written permission.
The GAA community did not accept this.
As a direct result, Gaelic Sunday was organised for the 4th August. 103 years ago today, approximately 54,000 GAA players took to the pitches and played 1800 matches with 100,000 spectators, simultaneously around the country at the same time - 3pm - despite government restrictions.
Call me biased but that is an unbelievable achievement in an age long before Zoom, WhatsApp and Foireann.
But what is not so different to 1918 is this. The situation brought out the determination of the GAA population, the love of the sport and of the community, and the dedication to upholding the GAA values. Then it was defying the government. This time, it is working with the government for both the GAA and the wider community.
We’ve seen it in the prescription runs, the phone calls, the shopping trips, the care and consideration that clubs nationwide displayed.
Both pandemics forced the GAA to suspend all activity at club, county and education levels. A paper written by researchers in NUI Galway earlier this year, says that the GAA is “uniquely emblematic of a collective national effort, bringing out the “best” in” us”….”.
The GAA brings out the best in us.
The GAA guides. They lead. They have the ability to inspire the membership in a collective national effort in the same way now as was true in 1918.
But what is the GAA? It is the members.
As clubs just like Innisfails GAA Club reopen around the country, that collective effort is being replicated at club level.
For our part, Innisfails GAA Club is forming a commemorative team, complete with players from each age group to represent the 54,000 players from all over Ireland that day, and aim to score 103 over-the-bar points, one for each year since Gaelic Sunday.
So on the 103rd anniversary of Gaelic Sunday following the announcement that Croke Park can welcome us back, remember the games. Remember the will. Remember the determination of those players.
But don’t forget your own volunteers, your own community and your own club who has shown the same resilience and determination that has gone down in history from 1918.
Time has moved on. Technology has moved on. But what the GAA stands for, what all members sign up to, remains.
Community. Connection. Sport. And we won’t let anything stop that. Not for love nor money.
Image credit: www.southernstar.ie