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Sunday 22 July 2018

Comment: The cup will no doubt recover, but the Ballyragget GAA scandal will be remembered forever

Kilkenny's newest social media stars won't be the last to mortify themselves online, writes Donal Lynch

A sign wishing the St Patrick’s team good luck in their hurling county final. Photo: Mark Condren
A sign wishing the St Patrick’s team good luck in their hurling county final. Photo: Mark Condren
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Is it worth it, young GAA stars must wonder. They give their blood, sweat and tears to the parish, receive no money and all but fleeting local stardom. But for the rest of their lives, if they should ever happen to slip up in any way, their names may well end up emblazoned all across the media, their infamy deepened by the mention of a few ancient inter-county medals.

The source of the scandal need not even be a crime, in fact, it might be mere high jinks. In recent years, we've seen stories of a GAA player attending an orgy and another appearing in a porn film - unsavoury behaviour to some, but surely not deserving of the kind of prurient outrage we once reserved for bishops and their mistresses.

The young Kilkenny hurlers who found themselves in the eye of a media storm last week must wonder at this strange equation. Their greatest triumph - an intermediate title win ending a drought of nearly 40 years for the club - hardly merited a mention outside of the sporting press. Still, a leaked video of a party that got out of hand in the days after the win ensured greater coverage than if they had won an All-Ireland. And not since the horror of Slane Girl did Middle Ireland throw its eyes so high to heaven at the youth.

It started, apparently, with the celebration after the match that turned into a rollover to a 21st birthday. Photos of several half-naked young men from Ballyragget and the surrounding area showed them dancing alongside what were reported to be escorts, with the cup they won in the vicinity. Photos - including one depicting a lewd act being performed on a man - and videos of the antics spread like wildfire through various local WhatsApp groups in Kilkenny and eventually ended up doing the rounds on social media - from where they made their way into the headlines.

So we all woke on Wednesday to see that Trump and tracker mortgages had been knocked off many of the front pages by a few adolescent-looking bodies and a parade of flapping mammaries.

Prostitute advocacy group Ruhama got involved, pointing out that if any of the women were paid then the young men would have been breaking the law. The GAA described the antics as "a private function" but county GAA officials met with representatives from the club on Wednesday and the club board was reported to be "dealing with" the matter.

Presumably this involves nothing more serious than a few Hail Marys, a few Our Fathers and a soft cloth to wipe the boob prints from the cup. Because any more serious sanction probably risks turning these hapless young men into greater martyrs than they have already become for the nation's youth. If the GAA is thinking of making an example by cracking down on rude videos and lewd pictures, they may as just well go ahead and ban most of the teenage population of the country.

That horse has long since bolted. This generation's threshold for shame is much higher than any that came before and it's partly our fault. We hand them the technology just as puberty hits, then act surprised when the inevitable happens. As long as there are smart phones, future scandals are as predictable as American school shootings.

The Onion famously (and probably accurately) predicted that there soon won't be a single person left who will be electable for anything in politics. A whole generation now has social media skeletons in its closet.

To be fair to GAA people, it wasn't all thin-lipped outrage from officialdom. Kilkenny hurling legend DJ Carey spoke with the calm pragmatism of someone who has experience with young people in training and in matches when he said: "If that tickles your fancy, that's up to you - I'm not going to be the moral standing ground for anyone.

"I'm sure it's a bit of craic - everyone to their own, enjoy whatever you enjoy. I haven't seen [the images] so I can't comment much. If lads are celebrating it's fine but a cup definitely shouldn't be involved."

The cup will no doubt recover, but in a small country area a scandal like this will be remembered forever.

While the poor young players - one in particular - stew in embarrassment, the Ballyragget club is moving on with its social calendar.

Another do is planned for tonight and while it is understood that it will be a good deal more modest, the entertainment - a band called The Two Johnnies - at least provides some subliminal message for players to bear in mind during future antics: If you're going to play, at least play safe.

Sunday Independent

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