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GAA must face its responsibility to protect officials

Injustice makes great television. When it happens at a sporting event we fume and we Facebook and we phone up our favourite radio station, but we love it.

Sport does injustice particularly well. Great sporting events, World Cups, All-Irelands, grand slams, are often won with dodgy scores. They are seldom replayed.

An axiom of televised injustice is that it is always the little guy who gets robbed.

Watching Joe Sheridan becoming the first GAA player to win the Leinster championship by scoring a try, straight out of the rule book of rugby, was an especially dramatic injustice, injustice as only the GAA can do it, a grand farce involving injury-time, a square ball that wasn't given, a goal that shouldn't have stood and an umpire who wasn't consulted.

We all knew what would happen next, calls for a replay that will fall on deaf ears, boosts to radio listenership and TV viewership, newspaper sales, the usual outrage and indignation from all of us who like to see new names on trophies, and bigger crowds at the next match.

Instead we saw scenes straight from the Irish village on Family Guy, the one with the drunken free-for-all in Wifey McBeaty's bar. It wasn't good television anymore.

This became about more than Joe Sheridan, Meath and Louth, a real rather than a sporting tragedy, reality rather than reality TV.

A volunteer match official was assaulted on live television. A volunteer steward was levelled by a missile.

The referee was not adequately protected by the gardai or the stewards after the match.

It is essential this never happens again. But we cannot be sure the GAA will do anything to fix what went wrong.

The GAA is casual about its relationship with its supporters. Every now and then there is an argument about stopping supporters getting on to the field. Nobody admits why the GAA never gets to grips with this ongoing problem. The truth is that many high-ranking GAA officials actually like letting their supporters on to the field.

They have a point. Considering the number of controversial decisions, referees are rarely assaulted.

Martin Sludden should have expected to be protected.

The single garda who escorted him from the field seemed unconcerned as he was pushed and jostled.

Louth have good reason to call for a replay. There are dozens of precedents.

But those calls to replay the match and snatch the cup back from Meath will go unheeded, as will the predictable calls for video technology to be used in major matches.

Investigating the near-assault on the referee is a more serious business.

The winning and losing of sporting trophies is just that, sport.

The protection of our match officials is real life.


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