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Armagh solo run oversteps the mark

In the two weeks since the game between Armagh and Laois, one question has not been asked: Why did Armagh wrongly brand a Laois player as a racist?

There have been so many disappointing, if not downright worrying, aspects to this saga that a lot of the core issues surrounding it have been lost in the hysteria.

Páraic Duffy did the right thing by intervening, and quickly too by the GAA's standards. He also did the right thing in brokering the agreement between the two counties that produced the statement which effectively saw Armagh reverse their first position, by admitting their initial charges had not accurately reflected what had happened in Portlaoise.

The problem, though, is that by then it was already too late. It is a pretty serious slur on an individual's character to be branded a racist. The fact that Armagh subsequently withdrew the claim counts for nothing -- the mud had been thrown and much of it had stuck.

The language used in newspaper reports all that week confirms this. The Armagh player, Ciarán McKeever, had 'allegedly' kicked the Laois player after the Laois player had called him a 'British bastard' and chanted 'God Save The Queen'. Only the kick in the tunnel was alleged, the rest was reported as fact, giving credence to Armagh's claim in the public mind.

But, by last week, the language had changed somewhat. On the day of the second CCCC hearing, the Laois player's behaviour was 'alleged'. Some newspapers retreated from their first position, although you have to wonder why they had not challenged the Armagh statement from the start, so incredible was it.

This Laois player had not been named by the media, but his name was circulated on Twitter and in GAA chat rooms. A couple of journalists phoned him and said they were going to name him and said they would give him a chance to give his side of the story. He kept his counsel.

The GAA, though, should have gone further than it did. Armagh's initial actions did a lot of damage all round, including to their own reputation.

Armagh's actions merited a stronger response from Croke Park. It's hardly stretching things to suggest that senior officials will have been exasperated by Armagh's accusations. They brought the GAA into disrepute. In a year which has started badly for the association, this was a real low point.

Many involved in Gaelic games will have bristled slightly at the notion of an Ulster team complaining about sledging. Others not familiar with Gaelic games will have been given yet another reason to believe the goings-on at football and hurling matches are far from savoury.

Like payments to managers, playing illegal players and training during the closed season, the verbal exchanges that take place during games between players, and between officials, is something the GAA doesn't want, but equally it is something it has done little or nothing to prevent.

This is what Páraic Duffy said on Setanta last Sunday: "I would have preferred if Armagh hadn't issued the original statement. The wording of it was pretty strong and perhaps in the heat of the moment I can understand that. But I think it would have been better for everyone if they hadn't. They could have raised the issue without releasing such a strong statement, which I think wasn't warranted.

"An incident clearly took place but there'll be no punishment against Armagh. I think as the week went on they realised it was time to calm down a little bit. There were strong words in terms of racism, sectarianism and so on. I don't think it was an incident of racism or sectarianism. It was trash talking, sledging whatever you want to call it, it shouldn't happen, it's not something you want to see as part of our games but I don't think that it's an indication that there's a rampant racism or sectarianism within the Association or about the way our games are played."

Right, and wrong. There is not rampant racism or sectarianism in the game. There was a need to punish Armagh for creating an environment which made out there is; for trying to play on the idea of some kind of north-south divide. When it comes to competitive games, there is a north-south divide. There is also a Dublin-Meath divide, Cork-Kerry, Galway-Mayo, Cork-Tipperary . . . and so on.

This is what happens in games, at club and county level. If you don't like it, then do something about it by empowering and encouraging match-day officials who hear such talk to deal with it. And tell counties like Armagh who go off on solo runs like this to button it.

Sunday Indo Sport