Breastfeeding mother ordered to buy ticket to secure 16 week-old’s entry!!!
Oh where, oh where has it all gone wrong, lads?…
Let me talk to you about, Caoimhe Hill McCann.
From Banbridge, Co. Down, Caoimhe has had the unenviable task of explaining to inquisitive and oft times bemused GAA going folk, the logic in her fervent support of the red and white of Tyrone, rather than the red and black of her native county. For anyone, who knows Caoimhe’s father Jimmy, a quiet, unassuming gentleman from Omagh, they’ll know that he had nothing to do with it.
Let’s be clear from the outset, I know Caoimhe well. We’ve laughed, we’ve fought, we’ve drank and we’ve sang most of our adult lives. We even shared an altar together in December last year, alas (much to her woe I can only presume) to bear witness at the marriage of her brother Lochlainn to an actual Tyrone woman, Donaghmore’s Aisling McGlone. Caoimhe herself married Johnny McCann in July 2017, a fine son of Toome and in April past, they welcomed a new recruit to their beautiful family, when Connla Hill McCann arrived, providing eight year-old Laochra with a brother to torment for the next ten to fifteen years.
So, yes. Anybody reading this piece in the hope of perusing a sterile, ‘plop your arse on the fence’, balanced debate? I apologise! Please feel free to check out some of my other work – perhaps check out the match report on what was a tension-fraught encounter at headquarters yesterday afternoon.
But this story outweighs the constraints of journalistic integrity. Not for the first time this Summer, this story touches on community, on family, on morality, on what is right and what is wrong. And, unfortunately, two common denominators remain, the Gaelic Athletic Association and bare-faced greed.
Since Connla’s birth on April 18th he has attended no fewer than seven inter county games, more than some men attend in a lifetime. It started badly. Not five weeks old, and he was at Healy Park in Omagh to witness the Red Hands fall to yesterday’s enemy Monaghan in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship.
In a Summer, that’s taken the infant from Navan to Carlow; from Enniskillen to O’Moore Park, Portlaoise; and as far as Mac Cumhaill Park, Ballybofey; yesterday was Connla’s first pilgrimage to Croke Park.
The youngster is at this stage ingrained in the Hill family GAA away days. We all know them. That family that attend every game en masse, chewing the cud before and after in a local watering hole. Yesterday was no different. The presence of aunts, uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers and a few handsome friends passed Connla by, as he slept quietly in the arms of any female who got in line for a hold.
At ten past three, Caoimhe and Johnny set off for the Hogan Stand, Connla strapped to his mother’s front. At the entrance to the stadium on Jones Road, stewards searched the baby bag, whilst more interested in the novelty of the youngster bedecked in full Tyrone kit. The three proceeded on to the turnstile where Caoimhe picks up the tale.
“We approached the turnstile and a young girl was collecting tickets. I popped my head in to show I had a baby strapped to me and to see if someone could open a gate rather than us having to squeeze through the turnstile. The girl then asked me for Connla’s ticket. At first, I thought she was joking, which evidently, she was not, and having explained to her that I hadn’t had to pay for admission at any of the grounds we’d taken him this Summer, she called for her supervisor”.
The supervisor instructed the couple that it was an all-ticket affair and that the infant wouldn’t be permitted for entry without a valid ticket.
“I told the guy that it was ridiculous! That I’d attended every one of Tyrone’s matches this summer bar the Roscommon game at Croke Park with the child and had not been as much as questioned anywhere else,” Caoimhe continues.
Her protestations fell on deaf ears and Caoimhe and Johnny were ushered in the direction of a box office with no further explanation.
The fact that common decency in the end won out when the bag-checking stewards intervened, acquiring a spare ticket from a passer by and remonstrating with the official at the gate before the family were let in, paying only in spectating minutes lost, is actually, somewhat irrelevant.
For what happened in the shadow of the Hogan Stand yesterday is itself silhouetted by the ever-looming cloud of PR disasters for an organisation who self-proclaim “community” at the heart of its values.
We had the first climbdown as June drew to a close. Having contradicted their own rules in the wake of Kildare drawing a home tie against Mayo in Round 3 of the Qualifier Series, the Central Competitions Controls Committee gave way to a wave of disapproving voices from within GAA circles, eventually ruling the game could, indeed, be played in Newbridge and not their preferred venue of Croke Park as part of a money-spinning double header.
Consequently, at the tie, on June 30th, further embarrassment was to follow when stewards within the St Conleth’s Park venue instructed a breastfeeding woman to remove herself from the stand if she insisted on feeding her child. Oh dear.
More body contorting, cringe worthy nonsense followed in July. When approached by the organisers of a benefit soccer match for the late Irish international Liam Miller, the Cork County Board initially refused to stage the charity event at Cork GAA’s Pairc Ui Chaoimh stadium, which boasts a capacity of up to 45,000 patrons. The alternative? The 7,000 seater Turners Cross stadium, home of Cork City FC.
After public outcry that stretched beyond the realms of the GAA, the association again held their hands up in the wake of accusations of financial greed playing a pivotal role in snubbing the charity event. Eventually, it was confirmed that Pairc Ui Chaoimh would play host to September 25th’s tribute game.
Casting minds back to July last year, can we remember Michael Duignan’s emotional dressing down of the GAA live in the RTÉ studios after their multi-million Euro deal with Sky ensured the evaporation of more live games from free-to-air television?
A pattern forms.
Yesterday’s events will not deter Caoimhe and Johnny. They’ll still be on the hunt for tickets to the showpiece finale on the first weekend of September, where Tyrone will go up against heavy-favourites Dublin.
But when asked if Connla will accompany them, Caoimhe was forlorn in her assessment.
“Unfortunately, I can’t justify paying €80 for a sleeping child to attend a football match. Nor can I live with the guilt of having denied someone the opportunity to attend what for most people is one of the most important days of their lives, for the sake of a sleeping child. I’m angry. An Association I have supported, volunteered for, and paid countless money to over the years? An Association with family at it’s core? What has happened?”
The GAA did not respond to Ball-X’s request for comment, nor have they contacted Caoimhe, despite her raising protestation both yesterday via Twitter and today when she rang the ticket office to enquire as to arrangements for All-Ireland Final Sunday.
A few people did talk to Ball-X, however. The IFA, FAI and Ulster Rugby all confirmed that infants under the age of two were permitted to attend games with parents free of charge – in what as known as a Babe in Arms scheme.
Has the time come to erect a giant mirror on top of the Croke Park Hotel yet?