OVERSEAS GAA gets quite a bit of press these days and it is now the subject of a Setanta Sports documentary, Home from Home. The first episode airs tomorrow night (August 26) and the concluding part is on Wednesday.
London’s Father Murphys are featured heavily, their story mixed with others from Dubai, Christchurch and Toronto.
So, is it any good?
Well, a few moments into the review footage I was becoming nervous. Whatever lobe of the brain that is responsible for boredom was sending a strong message: turn it off and get on with your day. This is threatening gravely to be two hours of, “isn’t the GAA great? Sure it helps lads and girls settle wherever they land. And the New Irish are going to so many far flung and marvellous parts of the Earth now and they’re highly-educated, highly-motivated young people with the world at their feet. But we still have the GAA. And isn’t that great?”
The boredom lobe was correct, to a point. It was far too much of all of those things – a kind of glossy trade-magazine/PR version of overseas GAA with every cliché writ large. We’ll come back to that, but it would be unfair not to first acknowledge what was praiseworthy about the documentary.
The people featured, based all over the world, came across as positive and resourceful. It was really nicely shot: London looked great, though not quite so great as Toronto or Christchurch or Dubai. Though maybe that’s just because I’ve never been to the other three places and London by now is too familiar to be exotic. Regardless, it was beatifully captured and well put together.
Cut in and out of the contemporary tales is historical footage which tells the story of how the GAA came to become established in the relevant cities. This is particularly fascinating. Old film of Cricklewood and navvies and strong men with 40-inch hurleys set the mind racing. As did a Murphys team picture from what must be 40 years ago ... What is Tommy Harrell doing with glasses on? Did he wear them during play? If so he must have been nimble enough out in New Eltham to avoid getting them smashed by some Tipperary labourer who dug the Jubilee Line tunnel single-handed, while smoking 40 Major a shift.
I don’t mean to be flippant. It’s just that it does lapse into cliché a little too readily. As a result, we are denied a true portrait of GAA overseas.
You can imagine the brass of Croke Park watching this and saying “excellent, this is just perfect”. That is not what you should want.
Nothing in the documentary is false, but it’s not true enough if that makes sense. The atmosphere of optimism and community is 100 per cent real, but it does not exist in isolation.
Those of us that are at these games most weeks of the year know there is more to it. Where is the roguery, the chicanery? Tell us what happens when a good player is about to move to town. What is offered for their services in the way of jobs and accommodation and tickets and home improvements? This is barely hinted at but is a vital part of running a club outside of Ireland. What about the effing and blinding at referees, the melees, the ringers, the politicking that make the House of Cards seem like entry level stuff … where are all these things?
The danger of “focussing on the positive” is that the picture is not true. It’s like a medieval portrait where the artist paints a beauty mark instead of a wart and the scars are brushed over. The works that stand the test of time are the ones that show things as they are and therefore invite a deeper examination.
Another drawback is the script, which is ragged in places. The word “indelible” crops up twice in the first two minutes. That jars. As does the amount of hackneyed expressions that made it past the edit and into the first sentence of the second episode: not too distant past, consigned to history books, economic woes. The last phrase keeps reoccurring, which is especially irritating. Find a different way to say it. We are told that the Irish of the 1950s and 60s settled in the boroughs of Kilburn, Camden and Cricklewood – sloppy. Anybody who has ever lived in London knows that there’s only one borough in that list.
The whole show could have benefited from a more journalistic ethos; a sharper script with less clichés and repetition married to a broader and truer representation of overseas GAA.
There is plenty to like admire about the slickness of production, the characters and clubs featured and the choice of locations but ultimately the PR leaning and sensibilities makes this a missed opportunity.