“I think I’ve ruffled a few feathers.”
Colm O’Rourke made this observation with a wry smile as he concluded a frank and passionate talk at Trinity College on Saturday.
The former Meath footballer – now a panellist on The Sunday Game – was speaking at an annual conference in the college dealing with ethics in sport. The conference featured speakers such as Oisín McConville, Joe Canning, and George Hamilton – to name but a few – and O’Rourke was the final speaker on the day.
The secondary school principle discussed his views on ethics (or lack thereof) in sport, his unhappiness with the state of modern GAA, and why he considers himself a sporting socialist.
“We believed in winning… Our Meath team had absolutely no ethics.”
The Simonstown manager opened his speech by claiming that his notoriously tough Meath team had no ethics on the field.
He described how Mick Lyons advised the Royals that “if you’re going to do a Dub, do him in the first 10 minutes, because you probably won’t get sent off”.
“So we acted accordingly,” O’Rourke mused cheekily after relaying Lyons’ advice.
The 60 year old admitted that while there were things he regretted doing in the heat of battle, there were also ethically questionable acts which he doesn’t regret.
“I gave a fella a right box in the jaw one day,” he announced casually, “and I felt I deserved it, because he was annoying me.”
30 years later, he says, he still thinks he made the right decision.
O’Rourke stressed, however, that ethics is easier with hindsight, and that we should reflect on such eras in the context of that time.
He also dismissed the intense criticism aimed in the direction of Lee Keegan after the Mayo defender threw his GPS towards Dean Rock in the All-Ireland final as the Dublin forward was about to take what proved to be the winning free.
He says he would have done anything in his power to win a game, and his teammates and opponents thought the same way:
“I’d have thrown a cement block at him if I was close enough!”
However, despite his humorous anecdotes and entertaining stories, the All-Ireland winner also revealed his concerns about the evolution of modern GAA, and voiced his disdain for the GPA.
The St. Patrick’s Classical School principal claims that too many people within the organisation neglect the important values of community, participation and other values in favour of financial gain.
The Sky Sports deal runs contrary to the principles on which the GAA was founded, according to O’Rourke, and the Meath man says he has yet to encounter anyone involved in the GAA at club level who thinks the partnership with the British broadcaster is a good idea.
“I’m no fan of the GPA,” he stated. “It’s elitism – 1.5% of the population getting money from the GAA coffers. I think it’s unethical.”
The former Skryne footballer said he would have to question those who want to move the GAA away from it’s traditional community based principles. O’Rourke says GAA should “be for everybody and belong to everybody”, and “the most important thing is there’s nothing materialistic about it”.
O’Rourke lamented the direction GAA has taken in recent years, and said he values club football over county football. He also cast doubts over the new GAA format, stating that he doesn’t “see any merit in an elite championship for the eight elite counties”.
“If county football disappeared tomorrow I wouldn’t cry.”
Instead, he would like to see the powers that be focusing on helping counties such as Leitrim, Offaly, and Wicklow.
He repeatedly emphasized the benefits and importance of club football, and highlighted all the benefits – a sense of community, friendship, inclusion, life lessons and more. He said the GAA has traditionally been the only socialist sporting organisation in the world, and thus described himself as a sporting socialist.
In his eyes, and words, the man who leaves out the flags at a club pitch for an u14 game or the person who makes tea after a match are just as important to the association as someone lining out in an All-Ireland final.
Fellow pundits such as Joe Brolly have expressed similar sentiments and concerns over the direction in which the GAA is heading, with modern inter-county football and hurling bearing an ever increasing resemblance to professional sports.
He joked during his introduction that he would never have thought himself clever enough to speak in Trinity, but the Meath legend left plenty of food for thought, and certainly ruffled a few feathers in the Trinity Long Room Hub.
David is the editor of The Season Ticket.
He is a qualified journalist, and a long-suffering Meath and Liverpool supporter.