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Saturday 30 August 2014

Colm O'Rourke: GAA not holding back in its battle against violence

Violent incidents are the exception in our games, not the norm, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Published 27/11/2011 | 05:00

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Last Sunday was business as usual in the GAA world. A lot of competitive club matches, some great entertainment and a referee getting an earful after the Connacht final. What's new? It is a very similar pattern to most Sundays. The counties may change and if there is live TV then of course there is a lot more publicity.

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Watching grown men giving vent to their frustrations after a match is a regular occurrence and it happens in every club and in every county. It does not make it right but I did not go to bed on Sunday night worrying about the image of the GAA or whether mothers and fathers all over the country would look at this and say that their children were not going to be involved with such an organisation.

Somehow I doubt if many or any members handed in their membership cards on Monday.

This is not to be flippant about violence or the threat of violence. Last Sunday there was a lot of shapes being thrown but little else. In Tyrone, the incidents they are investigating appear to be a lot more serious with reports that hostilities moved off the playing pitch and some members of the public decided to take the lawlessness into their own hands.

Yet to suggest there is a growing climate of violence in the GAA in general because of incidents like last week is altogether misleading and, in point of fact, just plain wrong.

Naturally, it would be better if there were no unsavoury incidents but to use this as a stick to beat the GAA is to overlook the massive improvements that have been made over the last 35 years, efforts that are ongoing. I know all about them as I played or was involved in managing during all that time and what I have witnessed is a constant and consistent emphasis on better discipline. Like the alcoholic there are times when there is a slip off the wagon but I don't go much for moralising when there is a problem. Better to fix it and get on with things.

When I first started playing, football was a fairly ignorant old game. Roughness and even pure dirt were never far from the surface. Players were insular in nature, games were often against an enemy either real or perceived and after it was over the various camps retreated back to their hostelries to create more suspicion about their opponents. Training was poorly organised and games were irregular. The change between then and now is like night and day and again I don't buy into the idea that society now is more lawless and that this is reflected in a growing culture of disrespect to authority in general or referees in particular.

The reason why the GAA has become a much more purposeful and disciplined organisation is education. More education in general means greater tolerance, respect and discipline. As my day job involves dealing with over 800 young men I see at first hand the changes in society and I certainly do not see a greater propensity for indiscipline now.

In fact, the opposite is the case. This transmits itself to the football pitch. Most weeks I see a couple of games of underage football at school or at club level and I cannot remember the last time I saw a dirty match. Even where there is intense local rivalry there is no hint of anything other than mutual respect. This is as it should be and even if there are occasional lapses like last week it certainly does not mean that a culture of ambivalence pervades the organisation when it comes to dealing with incidents of indiscipline. After all, who has any respect for the loudmouth who constantly abuses referees, opposition players or, worse still, makes a lunge for a ref after a game? These sort of people are not welcome in any club I know. Now it does not mean that everything in the garden is rosy and constant vigilance is needed, especially in clubs that need to frequently monitor the behaviour of adults in charge of underage teams.

Perhaps the same applies to those in charge of adult teams as well. If there is not a code of conduct in place which is adhered to then it will spread like wildfire to all teams. The culture must come from the top.

Coming up with ideas about last Sunday's finish in Kiltoom is a bit like closing the door when the horse has bolted. The most obvious thing is to appoint very experienced referees to these games which are often a much more difficult assignment than inter county games in mid-summer. Winter football is harder to referee as the ball is slower to move away from the usual rolling mauls, so it is only logical to have the top men on duty for these matches.

And of course if the square ball rule was gone it would have saved a thousand controversies over the years. No rule has caused so much hassle and did so little good. This new rules committee, which is to report back soon, will have to look for its abolition. The sooner the better. Every referee in the country is making novenas that it will be gone forever.

The other major change which could make refereeing easier would be to limit handpassing as the overuse of the handpass leads to a lot of the tussles and grey areas regarding frees. I have written about this with regard to the rules committee before where I said that any meeting which does not address limiting handpassing is a waste of time. With every passing day I am even more convinced of that.

The international rules Tests showed that limiting handpassing does work and forces direct play which is more attractive to watch, easier to referee and ensures that all players have to be competent in the basic skills, one of which is kicking a ball accurately.

To go back to the beginning then there is no ambivalence in the GAA towards violence. Most violence in our society is directly linked to alcohol and in this area the GAA often gets a bashing too, even if there is much more responsible attitude to drinking in GAA clubhouses than anywhere else. That is a subject for another day.

Meanwhile, the constant search for further improvements in the GAA to get the proper balance between aggression and violence, whether perpetrated by tongue or fist, goes on. And the respect campaign towards refs from young players is working. There is a long way to go, but Rome was not built in a day.

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