Monday 20 November 2017

Billy Keane: You will win nothing without hard men but thuggery should never be tolerated

Stade Francais pair David Attoub and Julien Dupuy were banned for 70 and 23 weeks respectively after this incident in which Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris got his eye poked during a Heineken Cup game in 2010 (SPORTSFILE)
Stade Francais pair David Attoub and Julien Dupuy were banned for 70 and 23 weeks respectively after this incident in which Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris got his eye poked during a Heineken Cup game in 2010 (SPORTSFILE)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Rugby was the ideal game for him back in the days when cage fighting took place in prisons. Rugby players at junior level self- police but there are opportunities for the violent to maim.

The violent man bit another player. There was a woman watching on the sideline. She was feisty and gave out to the biter.

"What will he say to his mother when he goes home?" she asked. You could see the biter was delighted with the attack. Another story for the back-slappers in the bar.

"Can't he tell her it was a love bite," he guffawed to the concerned lady. Everyone laughed. Including, I'm ashamed to say, the younger me.

What goes around comes around. I played a football game for UCC against a West Cork team and one of the opposition players took a set against me, mainly because I was about nine stone weight at the time. He was a big man who was just home from America and I'd say he was close on 40 years of age.

I was saved by the young lad who was marking me. I could hear the bully shout out, "Go on hit him, hit him. Get him down and I'll do the rest". The good lad said, "No, no, don't" and he ran interference between me and the returned Yank.

Back in the old days Lucozade was the preferred choice of half-time drink for GAA players. The big Lucozade bottle was wrapped in a translucent, jaundice-coloured plastic wrapper. At half-time the psychopath put the yellow wrapping from the Lucozade bottle up against the face of the young lad who saved me. "Look," roared the assassin at his own player, "you're yellow."

I was small, scared and far away from home but my marker never laid a hand on me. The UCC boys, as usual, got stuck in. Especially the Cork lads. Backed me up they did. But I'm pretty sure I would have ended up with severe injuries but for the brave young lad who saved me.

The hit man is old now. I was often thinking of travelling down to West Cork to ask him out to fight. We jest.

Rugby was never as bad as football for violence. I only ever played it as a junior, junior. But every now and then there were random acts of terrorism. The rugby referees were much better than the GAA refs who seemed to be of the opinion that the only entitlement due to a corner-forward was a libation of Lucozade at the graveside


One day I saw a youngster deliberately raked in the head at a senior club game in Limerick. The player was scarred for life. There was a deep gash on his forehead. The blood flowed. The player went off. He was stitched up on the sideline and came back on. It was his finest hour.

Yet not one player or supporter from the perpetrator's club gave out to the bully, or gave out about the bully. The injured player was Willie Sexton, who went on to play for Munster and Ireland. And he never complained about the incident. This is all from me.

Last week Tomás ó Sé got himself into all kinds of trouble when he said there were 'scumbags' on the Dublin team. Tomás didn't mean to use that word. It was a slip of the tongue on a live radio programme. The ó Sés hate losing but they are good losers. And they love Dublin and the Dubs. I have yet to meet anyone in Kerry who is of the opinion that this is a dirty Dublin team.

But I saw a Dublin player eye-gouge The Gooch some years back. The Gooch was held down by another Dublin player. And yes I have also seen Kerry players commit crimes against football.

Rugby has also been in the news for the wrong reasons and I recall one incident in 2010 when Stade Francais pair David Attoub and Julien Dupuy were given bans of 70 and 23 weeks respectively after their fingers made contact with the eye of Stephen Ferris.

More recently, the nature of the big hits and the damage inflicted has been attracting headlines. We will come back to the issues faced by kids' mismatches at a later date but this piece is about adults who must make an informed decision.

I loved playing football and if I had the choice all over again I would still play. The only regret I have is that I didn't go easier on the sauce. I only ever played rugby for fun. Beloved Bective was my away-from-home club and the friendships have endured but so have the injuries.

I have only about 60 per cent rotation in my neck. The assailant must have been a rugby lover. A dislocated shoulder picked up in accidental injury in a GAA schools game is killing me this morning.

I had to give up contact sports at 23 due to a rugby injury and spondylitis. My arthritic spine is as bendy as a mountainy road going from A to B, via Z.

Rugby is far more dangerous than GAA or soccer. No doubt about it. Mind you, the belting of players on the head in hurling with a weapon is often described as "mistimed" by the aficionados.

There have been so many welcome developments in player welfare since I was a player.

I suffered a bad concussion when I crashed into my team-mate and good friend Tadhg Moriarty. I was given Lucozade, Tadhg lost consciousness and was kept overnight in hospital. The world was spinning but I went to the pub. Next day my mother asked if I'd been drinking.

"I had one or two," I lied. She marched me down the stairs. There in the fridge were my shoes with the socks tucked inside as tightly and snugly as a marsupial's baby.

My folded pants were next to the butter as if they were put there by a draper. Stuck to the floor of the freezer compartment like a victim of Pompeii was an animated frozen T-shirt.

Concussion, at last, has been recognised as a serious issue.


Every one of us must make our own choices. If you play contact sports there will be long-term injuries. But there should be no place for dirty play. The current and past culture of "he's our animal" and "you'll win nothing without hard men" must change.

Clubs and players need to self -police. Have any of you ever heard of case where a sports club has identified one of their own players as being the one who maimed an opponent?

Name one instance of the handing up of a clubman who attacked a ref? The GAA, the IRFU and the FAI should get together and agree a fair play charter. And the referees must not be the only whistle blowers.

I often wonder what happened to the young lad from West Cork who saved me. Is he still to the good? I hope so. I tried to find him but failed. This piece is written in his honour.

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