Tomás Ó Sé: I'd have taken his head clean off his shoulders if I was close enough after verbal abuse
I didn't encounter much sledging in my career - but it's not always easy to ignore it
Published 22/05/2015 | 02:30
There was a moment of enlightenment for me as I drove back down home to Cork late on Sunday night after an evening in the RTE studios.
The road stretching out in front of you at that time of night offers plenty of time to think and, in my head, the word 'sledging' was repeating over and over again.
Its meaning to me, in a GAA context, has always been quite straightforward - belting a fella in a committed and hard-hitting way.
"Jesus there was some sledging in that match. . ."
You make a simple connection with the force generated by a sledge-hammer and the image stays. But as our conversation in Donnybrook on events in Ballybofey earlier that day evolved, I began to have doubts.
So I sent a text to a buddy of mine on Monday for some clarity and he provided it for me. Needless to say, the dictionary has had to be adjusted!
'Trash-talking' or 'verbals,' as I knew it, is something I have seen and heard of quite a bit in my career.
That said, I don't believe it is all that common. I could count on one hand the number of teams I have heard it from down the years. A lot of teams don't engage. It's not even teams as much as individuals and, more specifically, rivalry between certain players on those teams.
Donegal and Tyrone have met so much in recent years that things aren't forgotten. We had it sometimes with Cork when it might manifest as part of a running feud between two particular players. It was there with Kerry and Tyrone, and Dublin and Tyrone for a period, something that follows on from game to game.
I played for 17 years and only twice came across it personally. My reaction to each differed greatly.
The first time was against Longford in a 2006 qualifier in Killarney. A certain player made a specific comment to me which I won't go into. It was clearly pre-meditated. He knew exactly what he was saying and did it to get a reaction.
He was 10 yards away but I have no doubt at all that if he had been close enough to me I would have tried to take his head clean off his shoulders.
It didn't have the destabilising effect that it was uttered for. I got on with the game and it didn't bother me high up or low down. It was only a few hours after the game that I began to absorb it.
I'd take general stuff any day but when it becomes personal and crosses a line, it's wrong.
According to Sean Cavanagh, it was going with both sides last Sunday. The question is, can you stop it? How can you police it? You can't.
There are a few ways of dealing with it. You can prepare players beforehand to expect it and be ready to hear certain things. You can have a plan on how you might react.
The downside of this, though, is you need to have that composure in the heat of a Championship match. Much easier said than done.
Another possible way would be to highlight these players and let everyone know what's going on. Come out in the media and make it clear who is saying what.
But realistically that's not going to happen either because players don't want to be telling tales that may impact outside football. And anyway, trying to prove it, it's never going to work.
The GPA had a fair play awards scheme that is coming back again. It works well for soccer, it can work well for our games too.
Páidí had his way of dealing with the whispers in the ear. I was reminded of the story of his engagement with a Dublin player at the height of their rivalry.
The Dub was giving Páidí plenty of the culchie stuff. "Did ye come up on a cattle-truck?"
Páidí bided his time and at the right moment levelled him with a right belt. As he got back up to his feet, still seeing stars, an enquiry was made to the stricken opponent: "Was it the back or the front of the cattle-truck that hit you there?"
Personally I would rather a fella hit me a good belt rather than come with a cowardly, scurrilous comment.
In Kerry we had heard stories about a particular Ulster team's trash-talking that we were going to be meeting in Championship and spoke beforehand about preparing for it. Apparently they had somebody to gather information on us, information to be used in the match. I didn't believe it and, as it turned out, nothing really happened away.
Trash-talking comes in a couple of different forms. There is the heat-of-the-moment stuff, a red-blooded reaction from a tough collision where the cool is lost and things are said. Nearly every club and inter-county footballer comes across this at some stage. And unless there is something wrong with you, you'll be drawn in verbally at least.
Then there is the cold-blooded verbal assassin, waiting for his moment with his research done, ready to spew out stuff.
These are the boyos that annoy me when I see them at it. And let's be frank, it looks awful on TV.
That guy from Longford only said it once to me. But if it is sustained throughout, the chances are it will affect you, unless you are really mentally strong enough to put that player on the back foot so much to make sure he doesn't have a breath to talk to you.
What are these guys at? What are they afraid of? You can't beat a guy unless you try and get inside his head? Is that what they are saying? It's big in basketball - they say it works and possibly it does. But I don't think it's a manly thing at all.
I never did it because it would only have taken away from my own game and my concentration levels would have depleted.
Defenders don't normally have to put up with it. They're normally giving it. I never had a forward trash-talk me. I know the 'Gooch' has got his fair share of it. So has Galvin. I admire their self-control. I certainly wouldn't have had it.
I could name players from Tyrone and Donegal who have a track record for it.
I'd hate to think we're now making a huge deal out of this, because Sunday was a typical edge-of-the-seat Ulster Championship match, keenly contested when you take out that undercurrent of nastiness.
You wouldn't like that to take from the physicality that was there. Ulster football is special to watch and be part of. I thoroughly enjoyed that match. Where else would you get it in May?
Donegal will go close to winning Sam, mark my words. But Tyrone's competitive streak will stand to them later in the summer. I loved the way that they just chased and harried and tore into Donegal all day.
I had no problem with the physical stuff. I had no problem with the way Michael Murphy was treated. I thought Justin McMahon blotted him out. I've seen worse than that in terms of being dogged out of a game.
Murphy not having an impact on game was huge for Tyrone, but what about those kicks at the end? It's a great sign of a player that can do that in the circumstances.
It is obvious that Cavanagh was targeted. He came in for special treatment. But I'm not sure how much of it was illegal. Cavanagh hinted about one of his colleagues getting specific verbal abuse. If that is the case, it has no place in the game.
Ulster is always a tough place to referee but, to my mind, Joe McQuillan did not dish out the black cards he should have.
Sometimes a referee who is losing control can hide behind yellow cards. Joe had a very tough job on Sunday.
In the second half there was a trip and a pull-down that, to me, were both black cards.
Black cards can be given for abusing opponents or arguing too much with referees. Not one given for this.
And was there a return of the third-man tackle last Sunday, the one thing I felt the new rule had almost eradicated last season? Time will tell.
By the way, the other time I was hit with a personal jibe was an All-Ireland final against Tyrone. 'Ricey' McMenamin delivered it.
My reaction was in complete contrast to the Longford game. I enjoy Ricey. He's a witty fella, good company now.
That day I just jogged back to my own patch in a fit of laughing.