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Touchline tantrums: the scary sight of parents with teeth bared

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'As senior cup teams from schools in the four provinces take to the pitches for the most-prized trophies in Irish rugby, mums and dads will crowd the sidelines to roar, bellow and howl their young princes to victory'

'As senior cup teams from schools in the four provinces take to the pitches for the most-prized trophies in Irish rugby, mums and dads will crowd the sidelines to roar, bellow and howl their young princes to victory'

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

'As senior cup teams from schools in the four provinces take to the pitches for the most-prized trophies in Irish rugby, mums and dads will crowd the sidelines to roar, bellow and howl their young princes to victory'

Rugby touchlines will be no place for the faint-hearted this weekend - and I'm not talking about the Ireland-England match.

Along with the annual St Patrick's bingefest come the senior schools cup finals - and the terrifying sight of parent power with teeth bared and fists clenched.

As senior cup teams from schools in the four provinces take to the pitches for the most-prized trophies in Irish rugby, mums and dads will crowd the sidelines to roar, bellow and howl their young princes to victory - and woe betide the mild-mannered opposition supporter who unknowingly wanders into their hellish orbit.

Parents who generally live in the leafiest, well-tended suburbs, and who normally adhere to the most rigid tenets of civilised behaviour, will cast all vestiges of good fellowship to the four winds on these St Pat's final days to taunt, curse and slander anyone wearing the wrong-coloured scarf.

Having witnessed Vinnie Jones during his merciless Wimbledon FC heyday and Páidí Ó Sé at his barbarous best in the Kerry backline, it's fair to say neither would hold a candle to the shrieking sight of a D4 mum in full bellow at whatever hapless referee pulled the short straw for the final.

Parents' touchline tantrums are not confined to Ireland, however, with the UK's National Schools Rugby Tournament last week threatening new rules to cope with the increase in unruly behaviour in the country where William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball and ran with it in 1823.

Parents who abuse referees may cause their kids' team to be penalised points for inciting unsporting behaviour, or even cost the team their place in the competition.

Due to a downward 'drift' in touchline behaviour at junior matches, the English Rugby Football Union has endorsed a system where referees can deduct up to three points for unsporting behaviour by the players and a further three for touchline misdemeanours by parents. Good luck getting a majority show of hands for that one at the RDS this weekend.

Even the formidable strictures of the GAA have been challenged by the creeping pestilence of parental paranoia and adult sporting psychosis.

In 2014, former president Liam O'Neill proposed having some underage games played in total silence in an effort to stop over-enthusiastic parents shouting at children.

His point that the effect of one derogatory remark upon a child's self-esteem might require 20 positive comments to restore it would surely have resonated with all reasonable parents.

That said, one of comedian Jon Kenny's more memorable sketches concerning the legendary bainisteoir Timmy Ryan's pep talk to the under-14's team before a hurling county final never fails to prompt a chuckle.

"First and foremost - let every blow be a funeral!" he advises with spittle frothing. Positioning is everything, especially in relation to the referee: "Make sure the ref can see you, but can't hear you. Start by insulting the other fella's mother, his grandmother and his sister - down through every seed, breed and generation of 'em."

Saving the best for last, he shrieks: "Bate him, crease him, maul him - annihilate him for the good of your parish!"

But if Kenny's rant is fictional comedy gold, across the Big Pond such extreme behaviour is a terrible beauty based in reality wherever the infamous Soccer Mom roams.

In the 'Home of the Brave', the spilling of blood is part and parcel of many a junior joust - often even before the teams take to the field.

An East Rockaway mother was recently arrested by police due to becoming so incensed over being dropped from the team email list for match-day directions, she slammed a metal chair on the head of her daughter's coach - in the under-nines league.

Similarly, a deranged dad down in Florida was so determined to stop the opposition's full forward scoring the winning goal in extra time, he ran on to the pitch and decked the 10-year old with a karate chop.

US sports officials say problems with over-active sideline adults peaks at games in the 8-12 age categories, where the parent presence is high, security is sparse and pitches are small enough to ensure that no provocative remark goes unheard.

And you thought it was only at senior level the greatest sporting damage was done? Truth be told, for all the potential damage sport-bonkers adults can inflict on their kids, the sight of screeching, yowling banshee mums trying to trash talk each other with the sauciest scolds can often be as entertaining as the game itself.

For the neutral observer at these schools cup finals, it makes for a sight every bit as memorable as the perfect try under the posts in injury time.

Irish Independent