Beating the 'Bad Birthday' Blues
By Kevin Egan
There’s an urban legend going around one regional hospital that, during the Celtic Tiger era, one particular consultant made himself a firm favourite among families of a strong GAA persuasion.
The story goes that he would ensure that he was rostered to work on the evening of December 31st, and more often than not there would be at least one or two children born to hardcore GAA families, who had visions of their offspring wearing county colours from the moment they saw two lines on a white stick (of the pregnancy test variety, rather than the ones that we’ve all grown used to using in recent weeks and months).
This doctor would remark in jest about how unfortunate it was that the child just missed out on an extra year of underage games by a few hours, and the parents would respond in a similarly jocular tone about how surely something could be done to tweak the paperwork and let on that events ran on longer, perhaps through to 12:05 am, or something like that.
And while in most hospitals the conversation would end there, this doctor was happy to ensure some club would get an extra year of U-14, U-16 and minor games out of this child.
It's a tall tale that grew legs, but every GAA member and every visitor to this website will still understand the concept of the ‘bad birthday’, and last Friday night, there were probably several fathers-to-be watching the clock very carefully very 2022 comes closer and closer. A few soon-to-be-mammies were no doubt watching it as well, though, given the circumstances, they might have been a bit too distracted.
In other sports, the evidence is there to support the theory that those born at the right time of year have an inherent advantage. Laura Finnegan, a lecturer in Sport at Waterford Institute of Technology, examined this is detail and as part of her research, she looked at the players who took part in the 2019 UEFA U-17 European Championships. 145 of the 330 players, 44 per cent, were born in the first quarter of 2022, while just 10 had birthdays in November or December. Remarkably, there were more players born in January (57) than in August, September, October, November and December combined.
No such research exists in the GAA, but all across the association there are examples of players who have thrived, despite arriving to their parents in December.
Noel McGrath, who added birthday celebrations to plenty of county final celebrations with Loughmore-Castleiney last month, says that it wasn’t an issue for him for a couple of reasons.
“I was quite big as a teenager, so I was able to hold my own with older players at a young age. Also, if you were in a bigger club, they might have a lot of players to choose from and there would be a lot more competition. At Loughmore-Castleiney, we’d always field a team at every age group, but you might only have 16, 17 or 18 players, there’d be plenty of time on the field for any player so you wouldn’t be short of game time” he said.
Admittedly, a player like McGrath, who at just 16 years of age lined out with his club in both Tipperary and Munster senior finals, is something of an anomaly when it comes to developing at a young age.
David Murray of Pádraig Pearses was even unluckier with his birthday, given that he turned 28 last Friday, New Year’s Eve. Though as he says himself, he was still a little bit away from the deadline.
“Ah, I was born at around 11 am, so I don’t think I was ever going to make it through to 1994!”
Murray, who is preparing for an AIB Connacht club final with Pádraig Pearses this Sunday at James Stephens Park in Ballina, is not a physically imposing figure by intercounty standards, and he certainly wasn’t a big player during his underage career.
“I would have been a good bit smaller than most lads, even some of the lads who were born the year after me, so in that regard maybe I might have benefited from the extra year”.
If nothing else, he would have picked up a few extra Connacht medals, given that a group containing current seniors Conor Hussey, Ronan Daly, Ultan Harney, Cathal Compton, Enda Smith and Diarmuid Murtagh all won minor medals in 2012 and U-21 medals in 2015 – medals he missed out on by just 13 hours. Yet the tigerish defender believes that having to be the smaller guy up along the way helped him develop into a better senior footballer.
“I played underage for Roscommon but I didn’t make the team in my second-last year of minor, so it definitely drives you on and motivates you to make up the difference by being able to compete with older and stronger players. Regardless of how old you are, you’re always going to meet an opponent who might be a bit taller or stronger than you physically, so you have to be able to meet that challenge head on and pass the test," he remarked.
Like Pádraig Pearses, Nemo Rangers would have had no shortage of talented players at each age group, so a December birthday meant that Paul Kerrigan was another who had to watch on as a few days meant he missed out on what proved to be a very successful vintage for the Cork City club.
“The lads that came up behind our year seemed to win all round them, it was great for the club but at times it nearly felt like they couldn’t have done any better even if I was there!” remarked the former county attacker.
“In my earlier years I might have been more comfortable in with the younger lads, but I hit a growth spurt when I was 15. In my first year at minor and again at U-21 with Cork, I remember thinking that some of these lads were like grown men compared to me, but it meant I had to rely on speed, and that was a big part of my game the whole way through to adult, both with Nemo and with Cork.
“As a group, the 1986 lads are all still very friendly, I’m very close to them, and I’ve had some great days with club and county, so I wouldn’t change it for the world."
No doubt over the past week, there were future players born up and down the country who just made it to play minor football in 2039, and many more who just missed out. It might seem like half that cohort are a lot luckier than the other half, but there’s plenty of evidence too that if talent and desire isn’t a problem, then a birthday won’t be either.