Monday 25 March 2019

Comment: Culture of not accepting any blame at heart of recent spate of club video nasties


Mullane: Took his punishment. Photo: Sportsfile
Mullane: Took his punishment. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It just loves getting in its own way, Gaelic football.

For the last month or so, it seems like that on an almost weekly basis, there's a new video of a brawl here or an official getting assaulted there.

Throw in the fact that proposals that would see the biggest overhaul in the game's history were published last week and it's not difficult to feel like the game is under siege.

The frustrating thing about all of this is that much of football's issues are of its own making.

It was only a few weeks ago that trying to make the game more attractive and keeping pace with the Dubs were its biggest issues.

There were ugly scenes of a different kind in Derry in September - and that was just when Slaughtneil played keep-ball in their own half while their opponents pulled 15 men into their own half. Little did we know, there was much worse to come.

The scenes from Tyrone, Derry and Down in recent weeks are indefensible. Referees and umpires have been on the receiving end. Spectators have gotten involved in things that has gone way beyond the handbags that football matches usually entail.

Keep up this rate of brawls and serious injuries are inevitable. It's not scaremongering to say there's a chance of even worse.

A common thread runs through all of those videos. There's a sense of lawlessness about them, that there will be no real consequences to what happens and that within the 'one-in, all-in' there's some sort of distorted protection. Someone might pick up a hefty suspension but it means the rest will get to wreak havoc as they see fit.

In a certain sense it's hard to blame them for that attitude. Disciplinary sanctions have long been an issue in their application and the fortitude to stick by the original decision.

How often do you see bans and fines halved on appeal? You need only to look back the Ulster U-20 clash between Armagh and Tyrone.

A mass brawl that night saw 10 players hit with proposed suspensions. By the time Armagh played in the Ulster final, only two players were banned.

And therein lies the issue. Players, clubs and counties are willing to do the crime but it seems will do whatever it takes to avoid doing the time. That seems unique to the GAA. Accept no responsibility whatsoever. Find a technicality in the rule book and cling on to it for dear life.

John Mullane is famous for many things but not appealing the red card he picked up in the Munster final of 2004 is one of them. Speaking about the incident recently, the Waterford man since stated that, "what I did to Brian Murphy, I should've got jail".

In effect, all Mullane did was accept responsibility for his actions. That should be the rule rather than the exception.

The pressure will come on the relevant county boards to come down hard on the clubs involved. They will be walking a difficult line and often face a policy of omerta when they launch their investigations.

Expulsion from competitions is the nuclear option and should be avoided as it goes against the grain of the association.

Fining clubs is an option but brings its own difficulties too.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that punishment is usually dished out in private, meaning that even if severe sanctions are brought to bear, the rest won't be aware of what could happen should they step out of line.

Of course violence is not exclusively a GAA issue. Acts of violence are a part of contact sport. And it's difficult to simultaneously trade off the power of the parish and 'us-versus-them' mentality that makes the GAA what it is and then criticise it when it spills over.

Some of the reaction has been over-the-top. There's nothing to suggest scenes like this are more prevalent than before. We just have more evidence of them.

Over the course of a year thousands of games will pass off without incident and clubs will come to each other's aid rather than to each other's throats.

There's no doubt it has been a bad few weeks for Gaelic football.

Defending it is difficult but it still gives far more than it takes.

Over the next while, as county finals are completed, the game will also bring unimaginable joy to every corner of the island.

That is the image we should all look to project and protect.

Irish Independent

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