Thursday 26 April 2018

Appetite for self-destruction

There's something reassuring about the way those old football championship traditions recur year after year. People from the inner city selling hats, flags and headbands outside the ground, Dublin's games starting late, Mayo forwards reducing their supporters to despair, Pat Spillane and Joe Brolly bitching at each other like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.

And Paul Galvin getting suspended. For the second time in three years, the Kerry wing-forward will be sitting out a good chunk of the championship after his eight-week suspension for attempting to practise dentistry without a licence.

There will no doubt be a lot of hysterical caterwauling about the injustice of Galvin's latest sentence, along the lines of that indulged in last week by his old teammate Darragh ó Sé, which, boiled down to its essence, was merely an argument that the Finuge man should get off scot free because: (A) he is from Kerry; (B) he is an important part of the Kerry team; and (C) he is from Kerry.

Yet, in comparison to the hysterics of two years ago, there does seem to be a more restrained line being taken this time around by those close to the Kerry team. County Board chairman Jerome Conway said that Galvin was, "man enough to take his punishment. He realises what he did was wrong, and we'll move on now and focus our attention on the Munster final."

And when Galvin's team-mate Killian Young was lobbed one of those easy questions by which sycophantic journalists hope to ingratiate themselves with players, an invitation to agree with the notion that Galvin was "a victim of his reputation", it was notable that he declined to do so. "It's a hard one to call," said Young, "Paul is a fantastic player. He's been caught in a few bad things but, look, that's life."

The people who matter in Kerry know that the game is up. It's pointless to suggest that Galvin is being picked on when the offences he commits seem so unique to himself. No other inter-county player knocked the notebook out of the referee's hand when he was sent off in the 2008 championship. And, though the game was a tough one, all the other players in last Sunday's Munster semi-final refrained from perpetrating anything as ugly as Galvin's assault on Eoin Cadogan.

It's pointless, too, to suggest, as ó Sé did, that Galvin should get a free pass because football is a tough, manly game where this kind of thing happens. The problem is that what happened in Killarney in 2008 and Cork in 2010 doesn't reek of manliness. Knocking a notebook out of a middle-aged referee's hand while you're verbally abusing him isn't exactly running with the bulls at Pamplona. And clawing at the inside of an opponent's mouth is more childish than manly. What next? A Chinese Burn on Noel O'Leary? An Ass's Bite for Philip Jordan?

From a distance, the two incidents look less like steps across the border that separates toughness from roughness than deliberate attempts to demean an enemy. Paddy Russell was humiliated by Galvin's behaviour two years ago and Cadogan is to be commended for his restraint in not drawing out and flooring Galvin, something that would have resulted in the Douglas man being hit with a suspension, which would have ruined his season. The hand in the mouth said 'f**k you, you're beneath me, you asshole.'

There are mutterings in the Kingdom about 'trial by television', which is a bit rich considering that there were never any complaints from that quarter when RTE showed the rough stuff indulged in by Tyrone and Armagh when Kerry couldn't buy a result against those teams. If you pose as defenders of all that is pure in football, and if anyone is entitled to do this Kerrymen are, you can't suggest that your lads should get away with foul play just because the ref happened to be looking the other way.

The role of Pat McEneaney in the incident between Galvin and Cadogan deserves some scrutiny too. He seemed to be close to it yet took no action against the Kerry player, just as he ignored what looked like a blatant piece of stamping by a Kingdom defender in that same second period of extra time. As has been mentioned in this column before, all referees make mistakes.

But McEneaney needs to ask himself why Jack O'Connor was so keen to sing his praises on RTE the following day. And to ponder whether it is not a mixed blessing to be the ref most loved by managers, men who, after all, are not entirely disinterested spectators.

The Monaghan man has become a stick that managers and analysts use to beat other referees. In the same way as Richard Bruton was suddenly anointed as a kind of cross between Barack Obama and Albert Einstein simply by virtue of not being Enda Kenny, McEneaney's praises are sung with gusto whenever someone wants to stick the boot into one of his fellow officials. It got tedious a long time ago.

Galvin's involvement in incidents like this is usually excused by the statement that if you took this aspect out of his game, he would be rendered a lesser player. Yet among his team-mates are some of the toughest competitors in Irish sport, the likes of Tomas and Marc ó Sé, Tom O'Sullivan and Mike McCarthy. These are very hard men yet they seem able to play without getting involved in the kind of tomfoolery that has earned their team-mate yet another long lay-off.

The truth is that if you took this aspect out of Galvin's game, he would probably have won an All Star award in 2008 and would now be looking forward to a Munster final and, most probably, an All-Ireland quarter-final where he could fully utilise his undoubtedly impressive array of skills. His trips to the dark side don't help him, they hinder him and they deny Kerry the use of one of their best players in big games. The damage caused to Russell and Cadogan is miniscule compared to the damage caused to Galvin.

Paul Galvin is no eejit. Neither is he a thug. He is a teacher, a job requiring a great deal of self-control and intelligence. He managed St Brendan's Killarney to the Hogan Cup final this year, something that must have required even more abundant possession of the same qualities.

His problems arise not because he 'plays on the edge' or because he is 'a complex character' or any of the other clichés deployed by assorted ass-kissers. They happen because, from time to time, he can't control his temper. This is not a mortal sin. Most of us have done plenty of things we're not proud of. The key is to try and do better the next time, to decide once and for all that you're sick of landing yourself in the s**t.

A man who can achieve what Galvin has, as both player and coach, certainly has it within himself to conquer his weakness. If he does, he will be remembered for what he did with the ball rather than what he did off it.

He must know that there is something horribly self-destructive about working so diligently, risking so much to win breaking ball around midfield, thinking so hard about how best to use it, and then inflicting catastrophic damage on your season, damage that could have been avoided.

Because right now, there is only one opponent able to stop the Footballer of the Year. Himself.

Sunday Independent

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