Sport Gaelic Football

Friday 21 July 2017

Vilification of Ulster clubs widening north-south divide

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IT has been a strange week in Kerry and beyond.



Having first suggested that Derrytresk should be ejected from the AIB All-Ireland Junior Club Football Championship, Dromid Pearses then took to expressing their confidence in the disciplinary process, stating that they were confident that the Central Competitions Control Committee would "assign appropriate punishments to those who instigated events."

They were hardly calling for action against themselves, so inherent in their statement was a clear message to CCCC: Derrytresk caused the problem -- now deal with them.

With emotions running high after the Portlaoise bust-up, Dromid's outrage was understandable, which is more than can be said for Dr Crokes' intervention. Initially it appeared that they wanted to end a precious GAA tradition, whereby rival supporters mingle on stand and terrace, but later clarified their position, explaining that they were seeking ticketed areas so that families and groups could sit together at their All-Ireland semi-final clash with Crossmaglen next month.

ASHES

In normal circumstances, it would appear to have a certain merit, but suggesting it in a week when the ashes of the Dromid-Derrytresk fire were still red hot inevitably created the impression that Dr Crokes were trying to light a new fire by raising fears about the behaviour of the Crossmaglen Rangers supporters.

All the more so when it was accompanied by reminders of how a Dr Crokes player had allegedly been the victim of a handbag-wielding Crossmaglen woman during the 2007 All-Ireland final replay in Portlaoise.

Meanwhile, Dromid's most recent statement over events in Portlaoise last Sunday emphasised that their outrage was "not an issue of Kerry versus Tyrone or anything of that kind."

Why did they feel it necessary to make that point? Indeed, by drawing attention to Kerry-Tyrone rivalry, they were referencing a dimension which hadn't got much attention up to then.

And when Dr Crokes came aboard with their suggestion for special seating arrangements at the senior semi-final, accompanied by a call for improved security in front of the O'Moore Park stand for the clash with Crossmaglen, it introduced a new angle.

Would Dr Crokes have expressed similar concerns if their opponents were St Brigid's (Roscommon) or Garrycastle (Westmeath) or are their concerns part of something wider?

There are many GAA people in Ulster who believe that they are regarded differently by their southern brethren and, frankly, it's difficult to blame them. All the sounds coming out of Kerry this week gave the impression that Derrytresk were complete villains and hinted that Crossmaglen could wander over to the dark side too.

But then stereotyping Ulster football is nothing new in the south. People were happy enough when Armagh made the All-Ireland breakthrough in 2002, but when they remained at the top table, albeit without another visit from Sam, their style quickly came under negative scrutiny.

They were accused of nefarious deeds and, eventually, it even seeped through to official level when videos of Armagh games were used at a referees' meeting to highlight specific incidents.

It was an unfair perception of Armagh, but, once established, was impossible to shake off. Its impact was, perhaps, best exemplified by the treatment of Francie Bellew, who was depicted as the ultimate hitman.

Joe Kernan would later suggest that his hard-rock defender should have gone up to the referee before every game and given him his name in order to save time later on because, whatever transpired, Bellew always seemed to get the blame.

Meanwhile, the opposition were allowed to do just about anything they liked to Kieran McGeeney, who was regarded as one of Armagh's main generators and a man who needed to be stopped at source.

PUNISHMENT

And since he didn't complain or resort to histrionics, even under the severest of provocation, he shipped a whole lot more punishment than should have been the case if the rules were implemented properly.

Tyrone's emergence as an All-Ireland power in 2003 -- and their subsequent development into a consistently successful side -- gradually united the critics too. Apparently, they were the originators of 'puke football', a condition which disgusted so-called southern purists.

And when Donegal introduced a fascinating defensive mechanism into their game last year, they were accused of betraying basic principles. Donegal broke no rules, yet had to endure snide attacks on a system which took them further than at any time for 19 years.

There's no doubt there are some Ulster GAA people who carry a large chip on their shoulders, but, equally, there's a sizeable contingent in the south who regard the north differently to the rest of the country.

There were plenty in the south who felt entitled to lecture Ulster over its stance on Rule 21 (ban on British Army and RUC officers from joining the GAA) without ever actually crossing The Border. They never experienced the harassment which many GAA members endured simply because of their sporting allegiances, but chose not to consider that as they pontificated about the need to have the rule abolished.

And how many southern clubs would have shown the fortitude and perseverance displayed by Crossmaglen Rangers over 30 years of appalling treatment by the British Army?

Ulster can be proud of its heritage, its history and its continuing contribution to the vibrancy of the GAA. It would be a shame if a 'them' and 'us' mentality were to fester at any level. Sadly, what emanated from Kerry this week hinted at that and certainly didn't help the cause of good north-south relations.

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