Wednesday 28 September 2016

'The problem we have in the past 15 years or so is the opposite to manly'

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30

Darren Hughes, Monaghan, leaves the field after being shown the red card by referee Marty Duffy
Darren Hughes, Monaghan, leaves the field after being shown the red card by referee Marty Duffy

Having watched Gaelic football for over 40 years, I have having encountered many dirty games varying from naked savagery to the modern version of unsporting behaviour nowadays dressed up as tactics. If we are honest, most football games around the world have an element of physical violence without which they would not be as attractive to spectators who, while they clearly prefer skill over brawn, are always attracted to the smell of sulphur too.

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In former times, the combatants on a Gaelic football field were governed by a spirit of manliness that pervaded the vast majority of GAA players and whenever there was major dirty incidents the anger quickly dissipated.

I have always used the word 'manly' when describing physical play in football because there is a clear distinction in our game between what is manly and what is not. It is manly to hit an opponent a fair wallop, even if it breaks the rules occasionally, because the direct opponent always has the opportunity to respond in kind later in the game and also the person at fault is nearly always punished by the referee.

The problem we have in the past 15 years or so is the opposite to manly which is cheating, feigning injury, diving in an attempt to get unwarranted frees, foul and disgusting language of a personal nature that the word 'sledging' does not even attempt to adequately describe.

These type of incidents and similar behaviour are the modern version of dirty play but they should never be described as manly.

When Darren Hughes of Monaghan decided to run his hand through the hair of Tyrone's Tiernan McCann near the end of Saturday's game, he knew well there would be a reaction and it came immediately when McCann collapsed to the ground as if shot in the head.

There appeared to be no physical damage done to McCann but he was in effect trying to cheat his way into an opponent getting sent off. Within seconds, referee Marty Duffy sent Hughes to the line.

This incident was typical of the mean, cynical cheap sort of behaviour that is polluting the game nowadays but only from a very small number of players and teams, thankfully.

On Saturday, we had several examples of 'tricks' that have been the hallmark of Tyrone and some others for years and has greatly disappointed the many neutrals who have admired that county during their recent period of supremacy. Tyrone players lying down with imaginary injuries in order to stop the play and halt the momentum of opponents is a regular feature. Other counties have learned and copied the same carry-on.

Up to recently another very mean form of disruption was when a player who committed the foul failed to release the ball immediately in order to allow his colleagues to regroup before the free was taken thereby denying the fouled team any real advantage. Thankfully, that sort of cheating has been eliminated by the threat of a black card or referees bringing the free forward substantially.

Many of the cheap and mean fouls that have come into football in modern times have been imported from other sports, notably diving from soccer, but there are plenty of home-grown ones too and the growth of tactics in the modern game has added to the black list.

Before the black card arrived some teams had a policy of each defender being happy to concede one foul on the best of the opposing forwards so that no defender would get sent off because they only got a yellow card.

The saddest aspect of this unsporting play is that some of the game's greatest players are prepared to take part in these practices. Both Cavanagh brothers were seen to have a long period lying on the ground, apparently injured on Saturday against Monaghan only to suddenly emerge raring to go and lots of other All-Star players have been no different.

Managers, we can only presume, are prepared to tolerate this sort of behaviour and Mickey Harte was happy to say this, speaking to the BBC after the game on Saturday:

"The longer the game went on and the more intense it became, people are going to see a little bit of red mist here and there and that happened but I don't think it was anything too critical. I think it was just something that happened on the day."

Team managers who win big games tend to be masters of the understatement with plenty of practise of course. Not the slightest sign of any negative comment about any Tyrone player there. Something that happened on the day?

The laws of libel and defamation in this country prevent media people from telling the harsh truth of what goes on in some football games. For instance games are never referred to as being 'dirty' even though that is what actually happened and what the spectators at the game understand to have happened.

But I have never heard any radio commentator, local or national, or any television reporter refer to a game as being 'dirty'.

This is why the real truth about unsporting, cheap or mean fouling does not emerge. GAA playing rules can barely keep in touch with modern-day fouling and anyway there is still a latent body of GAA people who want the current behaviour to continue.

Very sad, but also, I am afraid, very true.

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