Sunday 22 April 2018

Dark arts have always been part of the attraction for GAA fans

The start of the new All-Ireland championship next Saturday evening when Offaly play Longford in Tullamore, hardly the most auspicious occasion to kick off the biggest competition in Irish sport, will undoubtedly highlight once again the negative aspects of football that have become so prevalent in the past decade or so.

Many of these will largely go unnoticed simply because most supporters accept them as a fact of life that cannot be changed. Let's just list a few of the more prominent negatives that are an integral part of the game.

Pulling and dragging opponents in possession in a way that does not qualify for a black card; off-the-ball fouling of an opponent far away from the actual play; taunting opponents verbally or physically so as to draw a reprisal that will probably be caught by a match official; several players battering an opponent who has the ball with various parts of the body while they surround him in the guise of tackling.

I could go on and on but what is the point? Every follower of the game can see these and other breaches of rule all the time. Sadly, as far as the general public is concerned, there seems to be no great enthusiasm by referees or the people who appoint and administer them to change matters.

That's not surprising because from the day it was founded the GAA has always been tolerant of violence in the game in its many variations. And what's more, many supporters condone and even enjoy a bit of thuggery in the game.


Why do team managers or other mentors still put their arm around a player who has just been sent off for committing a serious foul? Because they are condoning the crime, showing that they too are tolerating rule-breaking.

Violence has been an integral part of GAA games forever and anybody who does not understand that doesn't know their GAA. Thankfully, there has been massive improvement over the past 30 years or so but nowadays we are getting a cuter, more deliberate and cynical sort of fouling that is just as bad as when opponents used to confront each other with fists or boots.

So the law-breaking nowadays is more pre-planned, and is part of team tactics with many teams and managers. Of course we are not supposed to say this publicly as it seems to cast aspersions on all those sporting players and mentors who, according to their public image, are the salt of the GAA earth.

Don't they all shake hands with opponents after games and visit losing dressing rooms, with the odd exception, to sympathise - models of sportsmanship, it seems!

The reality of course is often very different. All the black arts I mentioned above are not only tolerated by players and mentors, but, in many cases, are deliberately used as components of their game plans.

Unsporting play is now accepted in the GAA and the friendly exchanges by mentors often are nothing more that hypocrisy - keeping up the 'right' image.

As a manager with Offaly and UCD, I was in opposition to Kevin Heffernan at least 10 times in big games but not once did he ever meet or greet me after any game. But Heffo was still an outstanding sportsman without the superficial shows of friendship.

Language is used to disguise what is really happening in many matches. How often have you seen the word 'dirty' used to describe a game or an individual bad foul in a game? Never.

If I had a euro every time a radio commentator, particularly in local radio, used the expression 'But there was nothing dirty or anything like that in the incident' as some poor devil was being carted off the field as a result of a foul blow I would be a wealthy person.

Instead we use terms like rugged, uncompromising, committed, exuberant, robust, and many others to disguise the truth. Unfortunately for media people, this is necessary to avoid libel actions if the correct words were used.

GAA officials as a body do not like enforcing the laws of the game from referees right up to the council chambers. Just look at the number of appeals that are won by miscreants who have committed serious offences. The black card is a good example. It is beyond doubt that a lot of these cards are not being applied properly and instead the 'yellow pack card' version is used to pass the buck and keep the offender on the field.

The referees have one more championship to implement the black card correctly or else it will just become a wasted opportunity like so many other rules in football. And, by the way, the black card was meant to eliminate this disgusting verbal 'sledging' so prevalent nowadays but referees seem to simply ignore that unmanly foul.

Thankfully, Gaelic football is still in the main a wonderful sport and integral to millions of Irish people. But last weekend's U-21 final between Tyrone and Tipperary was a vicious reminder that many young players have a very different attitude to sportsmanship nowadays.

Now I wonder where did these lads learn the dark arts several of them used last week?

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