Monday 29 December 2014

Is the win-at-all-costs mentality biting chunks off decency?

Published 23/07/2014 | 02:30

Meath manager Mick O'Dowd claimed one of his players had been bitten in Sunday’s Leinster final. SPORTSFILE
Meath manager Mick O'Dowd claimed one of his players had been bitten in Sunday’s Leinster final. SPORTSFILE

What could go wrong for Dublin? Mid-afternoon on a lovely July Sunday, the county's triumphant footballers were strolling contentedly around Croke Park, engaging with the supporters who stayed around to celebrate the latest Leinster title success.

It was as close to the perfect end to a flawless provincial campaign as it gets. Meath had followed Wexford and Laois down the conquered chute, despatched there by a Dublin team that won the three games by a combined total of 43 points.

But just as Leinster championship 2014 was about to fade from the memory, Meath manager Mick O'Dowd hoisted a grenade into the mix, claiming that defender Mickey Burke had his finger bitten during the game. Now, accusations of biting are big news at any time, but when they involve a county that had two similar allegations made against them in the previous 15 months, it becomes much more serious – even though the case was closed last night.

It's also important to point out that Dublin defender Kevin O'Brien had an allegation of biting in a league clash with Donegal in April 2014 thrown out by the GAA's Hearing Committee on the basis that it was not proven.

The process wasn't helped by the failure of Paddy McBrearty, the Donegal player who was allegedly bitten, to attend the hearing after the GAA's initial disciplinary procedures proposed that O'Brien be suspended for three games. Still, the official record shows that the charge against O'Brien was unproven.

A second Dublin player, Jason Whelan, faced allegations of biting during an O'Byrne Cup game against DCU last January and accepted an eight-week suspension, imposed by the Leinster Council for "inflicting injury recklessly."

EMBARRASSING

If two biting allegations in nine months were embarrassing for Dublin, a third in 15 months is mortifying. The precise circumstances of Burke's finger injury last Sunday are unclear and it was always hard to see how the case could have proceeded very far if TV footage was the only available evidence.

That's where Meath come in. Their manager made the allegation in the most public of forums – a post-match interview room – but who backed it up with direct evidence? O'Dowd could give details of what he was told, but Burke was the only one in a position to make a formal allegation to a disciplinary committee. Was he prepared to do that?

And if he wasn't, how could the GAA proceed?

The GAA moved last year to close what was seen as a loophole in the rule book, which doesn't specifically mention biting as an offence. Presumably, nobody ever thought it would be necessary to include it, but, sadly, that appears to be no longer the case.

Now, it's covered under the "inflicting injury recklessly" section, a catch-all offence category.

Whatever the outcome of the latest biting controversy, it's damaging for Dublin's image to be involved in three such allegations in 15 months. The county is currently going through a golden period, so it would be unfortunate if their reputation became sullied by biting claims. That has already happened to some degree.

Of course, if allegations of biting are to be made against player(s) from any county, then the accusers have to be prepared to back it up. Leaving it to the GAA's disciplinary system to prosecute the case on its own is like reporting a crime to the Gardaí and then refusing to give evidence.

The broader issue of why the GAA, in the 129th season of its existence, had to tweak its rules last year to bring biting offences in under a general heading raises worrying questions as to where the games are headed.

Is the win-at-all-costs mentality becoming so pervasive that there are no longer any boundaries? Are players being programmed beyond what they can control once they cross the white lines?

Apart from being utterly unacceptable at a personal level, biting an opponent inflicts huge damage on the image of any sports organisation. It wasn't an area where the GAA had much cause for concern down through its history, but has it moved into strange, dark times?

And if so, why? And where is it heading? GAA director-general Paraic Duffy described biting as "primitive, shameful and dangerous" in his annual report last spring. It appears he may have to return to the subject next year.

 

All provinces still in running for Sam

They may be well strung out in the betting, ranging from Dublin at 4/9 favourites to Sligo, the 300/1 outsiders, but when it comes to geographical spread, the remaining 12 contenders for the Sam Maguire Cup form a perfect four-way divide. For the first time since 2002, each of the provinces has three representatives. And since all the Round 4 qualifier games feature cross-province pairings, it's possible that each of the four regions will have two counties in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

The divisional spread is also interesting. Five counties (Dublin, Kerry, Cork, Mayo, Kildare) were in Division 1 this year; five (Armagh, Donegal, Galway, Meath, Monaghan) were in Division 2; Sligo represent Division 3, while Tipperary were in Division 4, where they won promotion.

The three Division 1 counties (Tyrone, Derry, Westmeath), who failed to reach the last 12 in the championship, were beaten by opponents with a lower league ranking, bringing to 11 the number of games where teams beat previously higher-ranked rivals.

Tipperary leads that list, having beaten Limerick and Longford (both Division 3) and Laois (Division 2). Can Peter Creedon's men make it a four-timer against Galway (Division 2) on Saturday?

 

McCarthy blasts vicious social media attacks

Cork football coach Ronan McCarthy described some of the criticisms of the team on social media and other forums after the big Munster final defeat as disgusting, which is actually something of an understatement.

The flood of nasty, vicious attacks was startling in its ferocity, made all the more distasteful by being the work of anonymous cowards. It's a new pressure that players and managements have to endure in the glorious age when every fool has an outlet for opinions, however stupid or malicious they might be.

Proving the gutless idiots wrong won't be a motivation for Cork as they attempt to re-float their All-Ireland ambitions against Sligo on Saturday, but confirming to themselves that they are a whole lot better than they have looked in recent months will be.

Despite the second-half collapses against Dublin in the Allianz League semi-final and the misfire against Kerry a few weeks ago, Cork are overpriced at 20/1 for the All-Ireland. Don't say you weren't alerted.

Irish Independent

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