Sunday 25 February 2018

It's chucking out time for Ulster’s macho nonsense

Players from both sides involved in a disagreement before the pre-match parade. Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship, Quarter-Final, Armagh v Cavan, Athletic Grounds, Armagh. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Players from both sides involved in a disagreement before the pre-match parade. Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship, Quarter-Final, Armagh v Cavan, Athletic Grounds, Armagh. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Eamonn Sweeney

I’d like to say a word about the melee before the Armagh-Cavan match last Sunday. And the word is, ignorant. And here’s another one for you. Stupidity.

You’d just get fed up of this type of nonsense. I know all the excuses. Worse things happen in other sports, nobody got seriously hurt, everyone’s down on Ulster football and so on. But the truth is that it’s never going to be acceptable for teams in any sport, no matter where they’re from, to attack each other during a pre-match parade. And if the GAA regards that kind of behaviour as in any way excusable then the Association might as well jack it in altogether on the discipline front.

What happened when Armagh lined up behind the Cavan colours in the parade: Cavan got the hump and both sets of players got stuck into each other, forcing the band to flee for safety, wasn’t very different from what occasionally happens late at night in the nation’s chip shops when one bunch of lads decides to skip the queue because they can’t be bothered waiting in line for their quarter-pounders and another bunch of lads decide this is worthy of physical retribution.

It’s at the same level. In fact the lads in the chip shop probably come out of it slightly better because they don’t do it in front of several thousand people. But in any case it’s the same kind of sheer turkey cocking ignorance we’re talking about. That the GAA saw fit to just suspend five players for one game each and impose small fines, €5,000, on the respective county boards is to my mind something of a cop out. Though not as big as the cop out indulged in by referee Marty Duffy when he didn’t take action against anyone following the row.

I’m not getting up on the moral high ground here. I have done ignorant things myself and I’m sure I will do them again. And I’m sure the players involved are the type of decent hardworking lads you usually find in this country. But a line was crossed last week and if people can’t see that I despair.

The news that Armagh County Board intend to appeal the lenient penalty they received indicates that they actually feel hard done by. Saints preserve us.

The players should feel embarrassed because they didn’t just let themselves down, they let the GAA down. And if you’re one of those people who thinks the GAA shouldn’t care what people say about it, fire ahead with that. Maybe you don’t think it matters when a handful of players make Gaelic football look like a game played by bullies and boneheads. But there are people who do.

Given enough latitude young men can have a tendency to behave like spoilt brats. I wonder sometimes if we do inter-county players any favours when we bend over backwards to make excuses for them after incidents like this. In an interview last week with Michael Murphy, a reporter tried to lead the Donegal great into suggesting that pre-match parades should be banned. It was put to Murphy that this is a very tense time for players, that they have to do a lot of waiting around and maybe it’s no wonder there was trouble. Murphy, to his credit, didn’t bite but that didn’t prevent a headline suggesting that he had called for such a ban.

In the real world people have been enjoying pre-match parades for years without it occurring to them that violence could break out at any second and the players deserved the height of praise for keeping a lid on things. Suggesting that parades should be curtailed because of the bad behaviour of two sets of players on one isolated afternoon is like the suggestion a while back that ball boys should be banned in the Premier League because Eden Hazard aimed a kick at one.

It proceeds from the idea that players are never to blame for anything, that they must be pampered because they simply can’t help themselves. Which is nonsense, as is the idea that the psychology of Armagh and Cavan players is calibrated to such a precise degree that the question of who stood where inevitably sparked a row. Or that Cavan had no option but to react like that because the other team were standing behind their flag.

Being a fan of Gaelic football or sport in general doesn’t mean you have to swallow the type of macho nonsense which would get laughed at in ordinary life. We’re not children. And players shouldn’t act like toddlers.

What happened before the throw-in last Sunday is easy enough to do. Any gom can manage it. Keeping your head and playing good football is the hard bit. That’s what supporters come to see.

The other stuff should be left in the chip shop.

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