LAST week during the Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United at Hillsbrough a Leeds fan jumped the hoarding and made his way towards Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland.
Kirkland saw him coming. He expected some verbal abuse or other. Instead he was smacked in the face. Before he knew what was happening he was on the deck, in shock that something like this could have happened.
Across the Irish Sea in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick City, Newcastlewest player James Kelly must have been similarly shocked as he found himself receiving medical attention after he was assaulted in broad daylight by a supporter of his opponents in the Limerick Senior Football final – Dromcollogher / Broadford.
What do these two incidents have to do with each other? Everything and nothing.
Both represented a failure of the authorities to protect players from unsavoury elements in the crowd – simply put neither the Leeds fan nor the Drom / Broadford fan should have been allowed get anywhere near Kirkland or Kelly.
It's not the first time that the stewarding at a GAA game has left a lot to be desired. Remember the controversy after the Derrytresk and Dromid match in Portlaoise earlier this year? Remember the assault of referee Martin Sludden, in Croke Park of all places?
Across channel could there have been a more distrubing venue for such a failure of stewarding to occur than Hillsbrough?
The only thing the Kirkland incident and the Hillsbrough tragedy have in common is the failure of officials to protect the innocent. What happened at the weekend is in no way comparable to what happened in 1989, of course, but it is a wake-up call to officals in British football that laurels cannot be rested upon.
It would understandable enough for both the GAA and the FA to throw up their hands in exasperation at these latest incidents. The vast majority of people who attend games do so in the right spirit. It only takes a couple of idiots to ruin it for everyone, which is precisely what these two are and what they have done.
To suggest, however, that the actions of two lone idiots couldn't have wider reaching consequences is just wrong. Sporting events are exciting, adrenaline filled affairs for fans as well as players. What that lone idiot in Sheffield did could have spiralled into something much uglier. Ditto for the idiot in Limerick.
The Limerick County Board, to their great credit, have acted quickly on this one. There was no messing around with reports and committees and the usual hoopla.
Within 48 hours of the incident occuring the man at the centre of it – Martin Stokes, the father of Drom / Broadford player Jason – was been banned for 96 weeks from attending GAA games, from mentoring any team or participating on any club committees – the harshest possible punishment available to them.
Meanwhile, in England, the man who assaulted Kirkland – Aaron Cawley – would no doubt be happy to recieve such a punishment. Instead he'll spend the next four months in jail having been convicted – he pleaded guilty – of assault.
Clearly there is a different culture between soccer matches in England and Gaelic games activities in Ireland, but can the GAA learn something from how the FA deal with such matters?