Breheny Beat: Viciousness of criticism fired anonymously now very scary
Players and managers helpless against online attacks which have become increasingly nasty
Shortly after 10.30 yesterday morning, somebody working off the title 'villageblacksmith' posted the following on the BBC website in response to the news that injury had forced Andy Murray out of this week's Brisbane Tennis International and almost certainly out of the Australian Open later in the month.
"He's just a charmless git... i have really enjoyed him being off the tv and off air for the last few months... looks like it will long continue... take yr time andy.. say 50 yrs? "
'Campaign 123' posted: "It's not his hip he needs surgery on - it's his face! Anybody ever seen him smile?"
'XhakaBoom' demanded total closure: "What a flop, he needs to retire asap and stop wasting everyone's time."
And so it went, with lots of others joining in the tirade. Murray got plenty support too but the number who saw fit to either abuse or ridicule him was astonishing. Protected by anonymity, their early New Year disposition was one of pure viciousness.
Where did it come from? And how can an organisation like the BBC deem it appropriate to allow any individual to be savaged in such a disgraceful manner? How does that usefully serve the flow of debate and opinion?
But then the coarsening of public interaction has now gone so far that it appears unstoppable. In the sporting world, it's not confined to the international arena either, also finding its way down to local level.
'Donoghue says personal abuse after 2016 relegation was hard to take' ran the headline in this newspaper last Thursday.
Micheál Donoghue, the Galway hurling manager, spoke of the abuse which followed after they were relegated from 1A in 2016 and again when they lost their second 1B game to Wexford last year.
"The reaction we got after that (defeat by Wexford) was phenomenal. I know people think that if you lose you are entitled to get the criticism. But we were getting phone calls, letters to the house.
"I don't mind taking criticism - you have to when you are in the game. But when someone comes in front of you and starts insulting you and your family, that's a bit over the top," he said.
Galway coach Noel Larkin believes that the abuse epidemic should be a matter for the GAA and Government, although quite what either can do is unclear.
"In my time we had no social media, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Players are subjected to faceless abuse, which we wouldn't be used to. I was left in no uncertain terms if I had a bad game - you'd hear it coming off the field. Now, lads go home and they get abuse online just because they drove a ball wide.
"It is something that has to be looked at by Croke Park and the Government. I think there is room there that everyone across the board to look and see how we can make things better. You can't be on social media, faceless and abusing players," said Larkin. Actually, you can. And therein rests the problem, one that neither Government nor sporting organisations can solve.
So who can? Obviously, those who feel entitled to abuse others would benefit from a spell in front of the mirror but, more generally, turning down the outrage dial would be helpful too. Analysis of sport has changed dramatically over the years and not all for the better either. It should always be calm and rational but much of it has now become loud and vacuous.
And since the market appears to be swaying towards posturing rather than informed assessment, the grandstanding bandwagon is overloaded to a dangerous degree.
Ironically - and this applies across the sporting world, including the GAA - the nastiest comments about players and managers often come from former players. That, in turn, feeds down the food chain, encouraging the sort of ugliness to which Donoghue and Larkin referred.
Unfortunately, there's no obvious solution to what has now become a global issue, although a more responsible approach by media organisations would help.
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A problem of a different kind was also highlighted in this paper last week when Kevin McStay, the Roscommon football manager, said that he will find it very difficult to cut anything off the €15,000-per-week cost of running the team. Roscommon are by no means the highest spenders but their case is a stark reminder of the massive cost of funding inter-county teams.
Mayo spent €1.12 million on their senior football team last year, averaging out at €56,200 per game for their 20 (FBD League, Allianz League and Championship) outings.
Obviously, most of the money was spent on training bills for their long season but when attached to the actual number of games played, it shows how squad costs have become totally disproportionate.
McStay noted how some of the costs in Roscommon involved professional people he had brought into his backroom team. It's the same in most counties with 'professional people' being hired for specific tasks.
I know many doctors involved with teams who have never asked for a penny for their services so why are others different?
An industry has grown up around managements with various 'experts' being brought in at considerable cost.
How can that be justified? And how can team costs, which are likely to pass the €25 million mark nationally for 2017, be sustained?
"Are we mad?" asked John Prenty, Connacht Council secretary, in a reference to team expenditure in his annual report last year.
Short answer - yes.
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