Tuesday 20 March 2018

Martin Breheny: Why do refs ignore 'verbals' when the rules oblige them to clamp down?

Trash talk cheap but not cheery

Tyrone U-21 manager Feargal Logan celebrates with his players after their All-Ireland final victory over Tipperary. Logan has robustly rejected Tipperary claims regarding ‘sledging’ and cynical tactics in the game
Tyrone U-21 manager Feargal Logan celebrates with his players after their All-Ireland final victory over Tipperary. Logan has robustly rejected Tipperary claims regarding ‘sledging’ and cynical tactics in the game
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Whether or not Tipperary realise it, there's a danger that their reaction to the defeat by Tyrone in the All-Ireland U-21 football final will come across a whinge.

Worse still, it could be depicted as a hurling county discovering that different realities apply at the top levels in football. Innocents abroad and all that.

It's an unfair portrayal. If Tipperary were unhappy with what they perceived as Tyrone's cynicism in Parnell Park last Saturday, they were perfectly entitled to lock their dressing-room doors and not entertain the "hard luck, ye're a fine team, keep at it," platitudes from the winners.

As for Tipperary's football pedigree, they have won more All-Ireland senior titles than Tyrone, albeit in very different eras. They have also won a minor title more recently than Tyrone.

Football has made impressive strides in Tipperary over recent years, but in the broader GAA world it's still seen essentially as a hurling county.

Hence the suspicions that their complaints over the U-21 final will create an impression of newcomers who aren't fully acquainted with the harsh world of top-level football.

Tyrone have robustly defended themselves, insisting that they did nothing wrong.

"I can promise you this: I have told our men never to sledge or talk to people. I have told them not to conduct themselves cynically," said Tyrone manager Feargal Logan.

"If you ask any of those players have they been coached in cynical play this year, they will give you an honest answer. I would be very disappointed if this team was labelled because that's not the way they're coached," said Peter Canavan, who is part of the management set-up.

Tipperary manager, Tommy Toomey took a different view.

"We knew what we were coming into. We had the boys well-versed about what to expect verbally and not to react. There's a lot of stuff often goes on in these games that Tipperary have to learn and I think we will over the period," he said.

So there you have it. Tyrone, all delighted - understandably so - with themselves after winning an All-Ireland and Tipperary implying that there was an unsavoury dimension to the game.

The actual controversy will pass quickly but the residue may linger longer. Or at least it should.

This, after all, was an U-21 final, a grade which traditionally has had a higher purity level than senior.

Yet, one of the All-Ireland finalists levelled serious accusations of cynicism and verbals against their opponents, who rejected them outright and resented any slur on their reputations.

Let's leave both sides to defend their positions and look at the wider landscape, one which should concern the GAA authorities.

The black-card offence was, among other reasons, introduced to eradicate cynical fouling, but has not achieved it, certainly to the degree anticipated.

Why? Because referees continue to opt out. They warmly welcomed its introduction but, once in place, they did not apply it as the wording ordained. And as time passed, they diluted it further.

Now, they use it very sparingly, blatantly ignoring offences which merit a black card. Either that, or they reclassify it as a yellow-card offence, which allows the perpetrator to play on.


Worst of all, they totally ignore the section which makes a black card offence of the following: "To threaten or to use abusive or provocative language or gestures to an opponent or team-mate."

What could be more provocative than trash talk, where a player attempts to wind up an opponent by unloading verbals, the nastiness of which knows no bounds?

Many will go unheard by the referee and his officials but are we to believe that their ears never pick up any? If so, then hearing tests should be made mandatory.

Yet, when last did you see a player warned, let alone sent off, for verbals other than comments of a racist nature? It doesn't happen, despite the prevalence of the trash-talk culture.

The GAA has rightly clamped down on racism, making it clear that it will not be tolerated. A similar approach to other verbals would be equally effective but, for some reason, is ignored. So too is the rule covering it.

It raises the question: why have it in place if it's ignored?

Irish Independent

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