RTÉ’s Prime Time was worth watching last night, and not just because the presenter was the cool and thoughtful Richard Crowley rather than smiling Miriam O’Callaghan, who brings new meaning to the term “confessional state” and new depth to the old song “Ma, she’s makin’ eyes at me”.
Admittedly the first part, about the south’s coming referendum on the EU, was a bit of a snore. After twenty-five minutes, Micheál Martin, Pádraig MacLochlainn and Eamon Gilmore had still not managed to explain it, let alone why you should or shouldn’t (or in our case, can’t) vote Yes or No. Although Gilmore did give me one moment of philosophical sadness as I watched him: imagine not believing in a God and choosing to spend your brief flicker of existence making daisy-chains of clichés in an RTÉ studio.
But the second half was good, and good and clear as well. It focused on the problem that’s driving the IFA bonkers: more and more players like Darron Gibson and James McClean are opting to play for the south rather than the north, where they were born and reared. Eamonn McCann came on (couture tip, Eamonn: wear that woolly hat ALL the time) and argued with regret that Ireland would soon have an Orange team in the north and a green team in the south, and that the seeds of that were to be found in the Good Friday Agreement set-up, which is equally sectarian in its nature. A second Eamon, Eamon Dunphy, argued that young Catholic players from the north felt more “culturally comfortable” playing for the south, and cited as evidence the concentrated vitriol of that infamous night in November, when the north vs south game in Windsor Park produced crowd bigotry so thick, you could have pulled off a bit and chewed it.
I always find the reaction of southern people who attended that game very encouraging. When they’ve actually been on the receiving end of northern bigotry, they’re much less likely to do the oh-stop-whingeing thing to northern Catholics. Besides, as one of the southern football people effectively said, them’s the rules. No matter where you’re born in Ireland, the rules say you can play for the south if you want to. Simple as that. It’s like the granny rule - you may mock it but it still stays the rule, and sport is sport because people play by the rules. Or should.
If you’re still not convinced Gibson, McClean aren’t entitled to head south, check out an article by Daniel Collins, whom I’m delighted to discover is a relative of mine, at http://oneteaminireland.blogspot.com/2011/06/player-eligibility-in-irish-context.html
He explains, with forensic precision, why and how the law allows young Irishmen in the north to play for the Republic of Ireland. Put like that, it sounds a no-brainer. But then who said brains were the strong point of the IFA?