The GAA have all but abandoned their name Cumann Lúthchleas Gael – the logo GAA is now emblazoned on all jerseys probably as a contribution to the new Ireland and an aid to Jim Wells’ army to spot members of ladies’ football teams collecting money. Where does all the money go, you might ask? But that’s another story entirely, one for a winter’s evening.
They have ditched RTE’s commentary as Gaeilge for a lucrative new contract with TV3 (money again, no more of that i lar na pairce carry on). Despite this, the GAA are keen to be seen to promote the national language. In Casement Park the public conveniences are identified as Fir and Mná and the entrances and exits (they have a one-way system) are helpfully labelled Isteach and Amach. While the vast majority of the crowd using these conveniences at half time are undoubtedly bilingual, I have noticed a small minority hesitate just for a few seconds, before going with the flow. On occasion, patrons have been observed hurriedly exiting the main stand at a crucial point in the second half to answer an urgent call of nature. In their hurry they have adopted a contra-flow system – it’s a bit like going round a roundabout the wrong way in the middle of the night when you are sure no-one is watching – to attain their goal.
In Croke Park all PA announcements begin A Chairde (it has the same effect as Sean McAlister clearing his throat after taking a swig of Guinness) before telling you not to dare set a foot on the pitch (in English). Then there’s the GAA bibs. GAA bibs are different to non-GAA bibs. They may look the same, many of them are of the same colour as non-GAA bibs, but they are different.
I love the bibs worn by all the officials around Croke Park on big match days. These bestow a sense of importance to all those fortunate enough to be issued with one. There’s the Mickey Harte-type bib emblazoned Bainisteor. Can you imagine Alex Ferguson arriving in Old Trafford wearing one? In time he may have to. Then there’s the medical man Doctúir and more Maor than enough. They are the guys who enforce the Cooney ban on entering the playing area and who move around like PSNI officers (always at least two of them together). They circle the playing pitch before the throw-in scanning the stands to see if they can locate any neighbours or friends to whom they’ll give a wave, all the time keeping an eye on the big screen in case the camera pans on them. It has to be said that they always look relaxed and rarely exhibit stage fright . The president of the GAA (An Uachtarán) is also identified. One of his tasks is to accompany the other President (the one that represents Ireland) on to the hallowed turf to meet the teams before the throw in. An Uachtarán wears a gold medal on his lapel so that the Maor bib wearers will know who he is. It also helps patrons to distinguish him from the other Uachtarán who up to now has not been requested to wear a bib but who knows what the GAA will do if that chap, David Norris, goes to live in Phoenix Park and attends Croke Park on All-Ireland Final Days. Maybe, if that happens, someone will put a motion down at the Annual Congress making it compulsory for him to wear a flak jacket!
But for me the best one of all the bib brigade is the Maor Uisce. He’s the guy who carries two crates of water.
The Maor Uisce is a full cousin of the hurley man. He appears with the team on football days and has a licence to walk all over Croke Park. I think that An Uachtarán hasn’t noticed him yet. On the other hand he might well have seen commercial possibilities (money again, don’t tell Jim Wells) to have him sponsored.
The Maor Uisce takes up position along the sideline. Linesmen are aware of his importance and are careful not to impede him as they move up and down the line.
Just like his hurling counterpart, the Maor Uisce has freedom of the park and acts independently. He doesn’t need the authority of the Reiteoir, An Uachtarán, or anyone else for that matter. He will sprint on to the pitch, having identified a player in need of a wee drink, and be back in his position without being seen by the Réiteoir.
Every time there is a break in play he is in full flight. Often he is faster than some of the players. He, literally, appears out of the blue and will even give a drink to member of the opposition. I first noticed the Maor Uisce while watching an All-Ireland semi-final on TV in St Enda’s a few years ago. Mickey Lemon called him the Wee Ballygowan Man. Maybe he knows who is going to sponsor him.