Taoiseach Micheál Martin has revealed for the first time the tight bind that pandemic restrictions on GAA activities put him in – both politically and personally.
As the country wrestled with the push and pull of tightening and loosening restrictions on much of daily life in the first year of the COVID-19 outbreak, both Gaelic football and hurling found themselves at the center of high-profile breaches of protocol.
In a gripping extract in Saturday’s Irish Examiner from After The Storm, a new book on how the national sports have navigated the pandemic years, Martin reveals that a fateful phone call from then GAA president John Horan in September of 2020 gave pause for thought and fear for what the reaction would be close to home and at home itself.
“We opened pubs in September 2020 and club finals were held around that time,” the Taoiseach tells After The Storm author Damian Lawlor. “Following one weekend’s celebrations which were well publicized, John Horan rang me to say, ‘Taoiseach, we are cutting out all county finals now. They are gone’.”
Martin’s son, Micheál Áodh, is goalkeeper for both the Cork county team but also Nemo Rangers, who just happened to be one of the clubs most affected by Horan’s plan.
“Now, Nemo were due to play Castlehaven the following Sunday in the Cork senior football final. So, there was pure silence on my end for a good few seconds and then a few more,” Martin told Lawlor. “I was thinking of the calls I would have to make to Cork that night and in my mind I was like, ‘Are you sure about this?’
“I got desperate flak at home from Micheál Áodh. I said, ‘Hang on, we didn’t ask them to do it.’ Although I must say the headline ‘Taoiseach intervenes to save Cork football final’ did enter my head for a minute,” he jokes. “That was before I decided ‘Taoiseach stays shut up about Cork final’ was probably a safer bet.”
The 2020 Cork County Football Final would eventually go ahead in August of 2021 and the Martin clan were all smiles when Micheál Áodh captained Nemo to glory.
The extract includes a wide-ranging conversation on the Taoiseach’s relationship with Gaelic Games, and he speaks passionately about how desperate he was for sports to return during the pandemic, at local, county and national levels. Ensuring that the 2020 All Ireland finals went ahead became something of a personal priority, he reveals.
“Completing the 2020 championship is something I was very determined to make happen,” Mr. Martin adds. “In my heart I was saying, ‘These games must go ahead.’ It was almost as if we had caved into this thing if we couldn’t have an All-Ireland. The championships had to happen. It’s who we are.”