He may not have graced the green fields of Croke Park in his youth but he will grace its very walls. He was present on the Canadian pitches in its boom time and he is still there now on the sidelines and behind the scenes as history repeats itself and GAA abroad once again explodes, encasing the hearts of Irelands homesick emmigrants. His name, Mr. Brian Farmer.
This year the work of Farmer for the GAA is celebrated with the presentation of the Gradam an t-Uachtaran, the Presidents Award. This is a tribute to the 25year old Armagh man who left the Irish pastures for his career with the company Powersgreen, Dungannon in 1975. He had a choice; Toronto, Canada or Johannesburg, Africa. Which was the lesser of two evils? “I decided to try it for a year because if you want to get ahead these are the things you have to do. After three months I was homesick, I didnt know anyone, I was about to decide to go home when my friend’s brother told me about St. Mikes.”
In the late 1980’s Brian broke his leg at training which curtailed his days of playing. To fill the void, he took to managing and was elected chairman of the Toronto board. He played a hand in the founding of the Toronto club Durham Robert Emmets and in its name was a tribute to his old Armagh club Clonmore Robert Emmets. “At one stage I managed St Mikes with Seamus O Keane and then Durham. It kept me in touch, ensured the passion and competitive feel didnt fade. If you havent got that then you shouldnt be there.”
Mr. Farmer has led a life which is inextricably intertwined with the Gaa.His debut began at seven years old with Maghery McDermotts football club, back in times long lost where a football consisted of a newspaper tied up with string. He recounts the highlights of his glory days with fierce pride, recalling the year 72/73 when he won Junior footballer of the year with his club Clonmore in Armagh. Another milestone in his life was the resulting product of the sweat put into the organisation of the A&P Skydome Games and the memory of the battle twixt Dublin and Tyrone, a match of beauty which he questions if the likes of it will ever be seen again. Then there are the titles; Durham winning the senior championship in 1993 and 2005 where Brian was co manager. He adds; “simply seeing the Gaa grow, the enthusiasm of new clubs and the new players coming over from Ireland. The Gaa is a hive of activity and it’s not just in Toronto, the progress in the West is unbelivable.”
For now, the gaa in Canada is in good hands, younger people are constantly coming in and the leaders ropes are being passed down; “New blood means new ideas. It is evolution and it is essential.” The only mistake been made in his view is the outlook of some that see the gaa as an irish game for Irish people; “That is counter productive and it stunts the development of the games.” Farmer believes that if the games where showcased to all nationalities, they would take to it and see it through the same passionate eyes as the Irish do. The prospects for the future are exciting. Farmer hints that there is a floating idea to establish a GAA world cup of sorts. There are international units of the gaa scattered across the globe; in New York, San Francisco, Shanghai and New Zealand. It would be a first class tournament with a potentially controversial restriction, you would have to be native born to play. St. Mikes man Paul Loughnane was one of the first to suggest it and since then it has spiralled. Meetings have been set up and there is global interest building. Another possibility is bringing out the All Star Ladies for another round of the Skydome extravaganza.
On March 16th Brian Farmer became one of the latest recipent’s of the GAA President’s Awards in light of his phenomenal voluntary contribution to the GAA.The Award was set up eight years ago to honour those who have exceeded what was expected of them in their commitment to the Gaa. Farmer was flown home to attend a special banquet in Croke Park to recieve the Award which is presented to a mere 16 recipents, making Brian one of an elite group. “The Gaa is a community, the people you play with when you first start are the people you play with and are friends with for life. Everyone is connected and I am delighted to be a part of it.”