The article in question:
Only churls churlish over Croker lights
Mon, Jan 29, 2007
Locker Room:In the murky alcoves and quiet corners of the chat rooms there are still some contributors bellyaching and muttering darkly about next Saturday's floodlit extravaganza in Croke Park.
A friend used to describe the Livelineprogramme on RTÉ Radio 1 as a civic forum for cranks, and happily the internet and its humming chat rooms have extended the possibilities for that benighted portion of the population who are never happy unless they are grumbling.
To sneak around the chat rooms eavesdropping one would suspect the Dublin-versus-Tyrone shindig was like the Vietnam draft, a compulsory exercise and one likely to lead to death or maiming.
Legislation for the draft has apparently been drawn up by a cabal of media types with nothing better to do. Finally, it is clear the game will do nothing but harm, the least of its unforeseen consequences being media interest, which as we all know, hits a team like the MRSA superbug hits a hospital.
For the rest of us it's a nice little celebration. If you were dragged up a certain way the new year starts in earnest only when the serious GAA action begins again. That period of the year between the end of the provincial club championships to, well, next weekend is spent in a period of suspended animation, marked (well, more so than usual) by feelings of ennui, lethargy and slight depression.
Sure, there is the diet of soccer, the Premiership, The Roy and Niall Show, and the ever-entertaining soap opera of the domestic league, which even in its downtime lurches from crisis to crisis like a drunk walking against the traffic.
For a bewildering number of people on this island there is the Heino as well, an event we take more seriously than the rest of the world put together, and well, why not? If it mixes sport with a suggestion that somebody drinks this beer instead of that beer we're all for it so long as it ain't the GAA that's at it.
All those distractions are fine but they are somewhat remote. The country isn't in full gear till the GAA is up and running and speculative conversation abut the summer is coursing through the veins of the nation.
Next Saturday night is a celebration not just of the end of the winter doldrums but of the end of one period in the GAA's history and the start of another.
The first floodlit game to be played in Croker comes, as we'll tire of hearing over the next few months, before the gates are thrown open and the new tenants are let in.
There are a small minority of diehards, begrudgers and whingers who, like the poor, shall always be with us, and they aren't happy. These people attract cameras and microphones like starlets having wardrobe malfunctions on their nights out. A disproportionate amount of attention is given to things they would be better off keeping private.
These are people from within the GAA who believe that when they cut themselves shaving they seep green, green blood. They are the people from outside the GAA who actually enjoyed the GAA's discomfort over Rule 42. Cold-war types who still live it.
For both sides, Michael Greenan, of the Ulster Council, is an icon and his threat to run for the presidency of the GAA is a promise to bring both sides to business as it was practised, say, in 1959.
The rest of us (barring the iconic Michael Greenan) are just happy to see the back of that dark period of time and to be on the cusp of an era where the GAA's achievement at Croke Park is highlighted and talked about and welcomed and respected.
For the next few months we might still be backward-looking, swamp-dwelling stickballing Neanderthals but we are the ones opening up the grand house and taking the rent from our professional friends. Only a churl would be, well, churlish about it.
Dublin and Tyrone are a perfect way to start things off in the post-churl era.
Mention of those teams and Michael Greenan actually reminds us of that splendid piece of YouTube footage which showcases about five minutes of highlights, head-butts, high tackles and carnage from the Dublin v Tyrone game in the Skydome in Toronto back in 1990. Peter Canavan was 18 and looked like Rick Astley.
The so-called Battle of Omagh was sissy stuff by comparison, but there, scampering around happily in his referee's outfit on the artificial sward used for those foreign abominations of baseball and gridiron was our Michael Greenan.
There's a sense about this season that there is an All-Ireland out there for the taking. Missing a couple of stars, settling a few others and just getting his feet under the table is likely to hinder Pat O'Shea. Armagh are in a curious spot, too old in parts, too young in others. Mayo have John O'Mahony but have they the mental strength? Cork seem a little bit off, especially in the forwards.
That leaves Dublin and Tyrone. The Ulster champions have the best footballers and maybe the shrewdest manager but they've been rolling on for some time now and it will be interesting come summer to see if they have the intensity in their gut to play their high-pressure game. And Rick Astley is gone, taking with him that raw edge which made him so infuriating for opposition fans to watch.
And the Dubs? There's a point to prove after last August and it will take a few new faces to prove it. For a long time the rap on the Dubs has been that they take athletes and try to turn them into footballers (they actually take hurlers and turn them into footballers but let's not go there now), but with Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan and Dotsie O'Callaghan all bubbling up nicely there's a lot of class to choose from in their forwards.
Midfield is a slight worry in that Ciarán Whelan, patchy though his excellence is, can't go on forever, but the evidence in Tullamore yesterday is Darren Magee is coming back to the level where he is a serious option.
The defence is a greater worry. There's lots of talk about putting the Sigerson-winning midfielder Ross McConnell in the number three jersey for a while and, looking at the back lines, one wonders sometimes where the necessary toughness is going to come from. Where is the Gay O'Driscoll, the Pat O'Neill, the Paddy Moran, or Keith Barr or Eamonn Heery? Ger Brennan brings a little of that and there's a quiet constituency that likes the outside chances of Paul Brogan of Plunketts as well.
That's what makes next Saturday such an opportunity on every level. It's an occasion . The GAA celebrating itself a little while it stands on the threshold of history. And it's a game. Tyrone, who have been experimenting madly in the McKenna Cup, against Dublin, who have been a little more cautious but need three or four new faces to shake things up.
What could be better than throwing a few players into the mix in front of 82,000 people while playing opposition that wants to put down a serious marker? Both benches get a rare chance to see what their tyros might be like under pressure at the height of summer.
We all step out into the light on Saturday and two sides who fancy themselves for the long haul to next September get to have their credentials examined against that light. It will be magical and it will be interesting too. And it's only February.
Relax in the chat rooms, lads. Enjoy the show.
© 2007 The Irish Times