Sorry is the hardest word to say in the GAA and it's time that culture was changed for the future of the game
THERE was no apology from any officer of the Meath or Dublin County Boards about how their players behaved in Parnell Park on Sunday.
Neither was there any apology from any member of the Meath or Dublin team management regarding the major collapse in discipline of the 29 players involved in the fracas.
Nor have I heard one single player from either team make even a nodding acquaintance with an apology to their county, their supporters, their team management or even their own families with regard to Sunday's fiasco.
When you count in all those participants there is not much room left for apologising which is not surprising. Because the GAA does not do apologies -- with the very odd exception such as the Dublin official who head-butted Tommy Freeman recently.
The reason those GAA activists do not apologise is because they see nothing to apologise for. All concerned simply do not believe they are doing anything wrong when they carry on a mass brawl between two of the highest-profile counties in the GAA in front of over 10,000 people. When it comes to dirty and unsporting play, GAA people never even admit they are committing any wrong.
'Sure it's part and parcel of the game' is the all-embracing culture which has brought the GAA as an organisation to its knees time after time when we get publicised dirty incidents.
By the way the use of that word 'dirty' is one that DOES rankle with GAA officials, players etc. It is a word that always cuts to the bone and they don't like it. How many times have we heard managers stating that such and such a player who has been found guilty of something 'is not a dirty player'? But if so many are found guilty of fighting, striking, brawling, kicking, taunting etc. how can they ALL say 'this man is not a dirty player'? Are none of the 29 last Sunday dirty?
The first reaction of every unit of the GAA involved with a brawl such as last Sunday is to turn defensive. Rather than admit any blame on their part, the first concern is to minimise possible penalties from higher bodies within the GAA. This was what Nickey Brennan referred to at Congress when he attacked county board officers who will protect guilty players at provincial or Croke Park level, such as this latest brawl, but when they officiate in their own county apply totally different rules. The word used for that is 'hypocrisy' and it is very common in the GAA.
Another common reaction of GAA people guilty of events such as those witnessed in Parnell Park is to gloss over it as being unimportant. They claim that nobody was killed in Parnell Park. They were just sorting each other out. If the referee had blown the whistle in time nothing would have happened.
If there is an excuse they have a name for it. This attitude undermines what real sportsmanship is understood to be by the vast majority of GAA people.
The levels of genuine sportsmanship within GAA people at all levels, including spectators, is very high and adds enormously to the entertainment of football and hurling. Last Sunday's hurling league final was a typical example.
There is a myth about the relationships between leading county teams in football that has been perpetuated for decades. This is the notion that there is a wonderful bond between competing teams and players ... that they love competing with each other ... that they are all very honourable competitors who would do pride to the Olympic ideals all the time. This is load of rubbish but it has allowed a handful of county teams to become elitist.
This notion that, for instance, when Kerry and Dublin played in the seventies they were all wonderful gladiators who never did a dirty stroke, congratulated their opponents with graciousness after an All-Ireland semi-final or final and said: 'After you sir.'
The same applied to Meath and Dublin and Cork and Kerry among others but it was a ludicrous notion. In a challenge game in New York in the 70s, heroic figures from each county committed offences that would make the cops in Harlem blush on a Saturday night.
This notion that counties like Meath and Dublin in modern times have some sort of special licence to play the game on different terms to other counties is a factor in what happened last Sunday. Otherwise why would 29 presumably normal people decide after four minutes to behave like morons on the field of play. And if such an incident happened between Leitrim and Longford or Waterford and Tipperary footballers would they get away as lightly as, for example, Tyrone and Dublin did a few years ago? Of course not.
Meanwhile, the thousands of dedicated people who look after schoolchildren and provide the GAA with its future will be left trying to explain to kids why they cannot do the same things as Dublin and Meath. There will be no answer. And thousands of young parents with no particular sporting affiliations will watch in disgust at the behaviour of GAA role models and say to themselves: "Lets skip on the GAA stuff if that is the way they carry on, our kids have lots of other sports to play.''
Based on previous experience, the GAA hierarchy does not want to enforce discipline at the top level of player activity - that's been the history of recent contoversies. However, there's always the possibility of a change-of-heart. We're being told that 16 players are going to be banned from the Parnell Park debacle and if that does become a reality, hopefully it will set a precedent.