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Eugene McGee: 'Rules' critics must look at bigger picture

The salmon season ended last week, the pheasant season started a month ago and another favourite sporting pastime will shortly begin. The Aussie-baiting season only comes about at irregular intervals because of the shortage of targets. But we will soon have a short, but no doubt volatile, couple of weeks when the Australians come to Ireland to confront the great and the good of Gaelic football.

The polarisation within the GAA among those who think the International Rules are great craic and those who detest everything they stand for is as strong as ever.

Joe Lennon, former Down star, will never alter his views that nearly everything bad that has happened to Gaelic football in modern times can be traced back to the involvement with the Australians and, of course, Mickey Harte can barely use the words 'Compromise Rules', such is his antagonism towards the series.

Instead, Mickey wants the GAA to organise a sort of World Cup of Gaelic football between teams from all parts of the globe. Two chances of that happening, Mickey!

But the biggest number of critics in the GAA of the Rules game -- and they cannot even bring themselves to call it a sport -- centres on the violence that breaks out in practically every one of these Ireland-Australia games. And some of that behaviour certainly exceeds what we normally see in our modern sanitised GAA matches -- or does it ?

The last time we had unruly behaviour in Croke Park was when, among other things, Graham Geraghty was nearly strangled. This, and many other incidents over the past 20 years, have led to mass hysteria from many well-known GAA people and their views have been reinforced by those 'knowledgeable' folk who get on to Joe Duffy afterwards.

Nothing in sport amuses me more than this reaction to violence in Ireland-Australia games because of the sheer hypocrisy of those who are doing the shouting. Many are from counties who have a record of law-breaking within the GAA at club level.

Hardly a week goes by without media reports of players being assaulted, referees being attacked by players or spectators and the inevitable mass brawls when one team decides that, since they cannot win a particular club game, they will start a mini-riot in the hope that the match will be abandoned and then replayed.

A typical example was all over the local papers in Laois last week. They were reporting on the violent outbreak when Clonaslee players took great umbrage after a late goal saw their opponents Ballyfin snatch a win in the Laois Intermediate hurling semi-final. Several people, including the referee and two umpires and even popular local press photographer Alf Harvey, were allegedly assaulted in the post-match fracas.

Earlier this year, we had well-known Tipperary referee Willie Barrett struck with a hurley by a spectator, and young Donegal referee Donal Gallagher was seriously injured and required a brain scan after an U-16 game when he was involved in an incident with a parent.

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A prominent Derry player, Eoin Bradley, was suspended for 48 weeks recently after an altercation with a club referee, but this was halved on appeal.

Three members of the Omagh club were recently suspended after a fracas following their defeat of Ardboe and are heading for the DRA in an attempt to reduce suspensions. And it goes on and on.

Therefore, we have to wonder at the sincerity of International Rules critics when they start bad-mouthing the Australians, considering we regularly witness as bad or worse violence in GAA games.

The phrase 'the pot calling the kettle black' springs to mind when we hear GAA people decrying the violence of the Australians. And those poor 'innocent' GAA players on the Ireland team are always portrayed as the victims of these horrible, professional Aussies.

Australians are fanatically dedicated to all their sports and the International Rules games with Ireland are the only manifestation of national identity for Australian Rules players, so their rampant enthusiasm, often breaking the rules of normal sporting behaviour, is partly understandable.

Compared to rugby union, rugby league and cricket, for example, the Aussie Rules players have no serious international outlet -- just as is the case with Gaelic football.

If the authorities who organise the Ireland-Australia clashes really want to eliminate violent play that goes beyond the bounds of fair play, they have an easy remedy. The referees can simply apply the laws of this compromise game rigidly and send off culprits when they deserve it. That is hardly rocket science, but it has never been properly implemented by referees in games so far.

These games should never be seen as an integral part of either sport, particularly Gaelic football. Instead they are a worthy opportunity for outstanding footballers of both codes to match their skills in a sport that is neither Gaelic nor Aussie Rules.

It is innovative, creates national fervour for GAA patrons and players and is a welcome and deserved diversion for our leading players. It is not an attempt to revolutionise either sport and the GAA-based critics of the series should just relax and enjoy the action in Limerick and Croke Park.

Regardless of what happens, the sun will still rise the following day. So, let's cut the hypocrisy about violent play from the Aussies until we put our own houses in order first.

FOOTNOTE: GAA people in Laois, and throughout the GAA world, have been shocked and dismayed at the death of 25-year-old Peter McNulty.

Peter was a wonderfully stylish footballer when he won an All-Ireland minor medal with his county in 2003 and went on to star for Portlaoise and the county team, captaining Laois to a Leinster U-21 title. His family will need all the support that GAA people always provide after such sudden tragedies and the sorrow which enveloped the town of Portlaoise on Saturday was all-embracing.

May Peter rest in peace.