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‘No room for that in any sport’ – Taoiseach condemns Croke Park eye-gouging incident as ‘shocking’

Former GAA president Seán Kelly says tough sanctions called for but no need for Garda involvement

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Galway's Damien Comer clashes with a member of the Armagh panel. Photo: James Crombie

Galway's Damien Comer clashes with a member of the Armagh panel. Photo: James Crombie

Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

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Galway's Damien Comer clashes with a member of the Armagh panel. Photo: James Crombie

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Sport have condemned the eye-gouging incident at Croke Park as “shocking” and “despicable” respectively.

Reacting to the scenes witnessed at the All-Ireland SFC quarter final between Galway and Armagh, the Taoiseach said it was “awful” that it was marred by what transpired at the end of the game.

“The Gaelic Athletic Association obviously will have to deal with that through its procedures and processes, but there is no room for that in any sport,” Micheál Martin said.

This was particularly when young people are watching their heroes on the football or hurling or soccer fields, he added.

“They don't need to see this type of behaviour. And it was quite quite disturbing to see and quite concerning.”

The incident itself had been shocking, he added.

Sports minister Catherine Martin said the attack on Damien Comer of Galway was “despicable.”

The game should have been remembered for being “the match probably of the year,” being edge-of-the-seat stuff, she said.

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Teams and players needed to be mindful that they are role models for our young and there is no place for violence in sport, she said.

“I would hope that whatever disciplinary procedures take place that it will send a clear signal and that this sort of behaviour is not to be tolerated,” Ms Martin said.

“If you look at the eye-gouging incident, it’s absolutely appalling stuff and that there are young families that go to these games.

“It's not just about young children who grow up to participate in the sports but actually it's a family event,” she said.

“I know of one five-year-old who was at that match yesterday as a first-time experience.

“They should have come home remembering what an amazing game it was; as I said, edge-of-the-seat stuff. Instead they see sports players behaving like that, and it is despicable.”

The GAA is poised to launch another high-profile disciplinary investigation after Sunday’s historic All-Ireland SFC quarter-final between penalty winners Galway and losers Armagh was besmirched by an ugly brawl at the end of normal time.

In chaotic scenes close to the Cusack Stand tunnel, players from both sides clashed as they headed for the dressing-rooms and a full-scale row quickly developed, despite efforts by both management teams to separate the warring parties.

One particular incident, an apparent eye-gouging of Damien Comer by a member of Armagh’s extended panel, sparked a furious reaction from some of his Galway colleagues and was highlighted on RTÉ even before extra-time had started.

Referee David Coldrick conducted a lengthy on-field discussion with his fellow officials before sending off Galway skipper Seán Kelly and Armagh joint-captain Aidan Nugent.

There is no allegation against any of the captains that they were involved in the alleged eye gouging incident.

Former GAA president Seán Kelly said that apart from the eye-gouging, “no great violence” took place and he believes it is a matter for GAA officials to resolve, without Garda involvement. However, he said tough sanctions were called for.

“Apart from the eye-gouging there was really no great violence that I saw that would warrant the Gardaí becoming involved. Obviously, any belt at all is unacceptable and they will have to deal with it very closely as part of the GAA’s normal procedures,” the Fine Gael MEP told Radio Kerry on Monday.

“They will have to be very firm as well, to send out a message and take corrective action, so it won’t happen again.

“It has to be dealt with but within the game, the same applies to other games - football, soccer, rugby – the authorities deal with violence regarding the players.

“If there is something very serious they would maybe refer it to the gardaí but normally, matters of that nature involving players, officials will deal with it and that’s the right way to do it because you couldn’t have the gardaí getting involved in every single incident.”

Mr Kelly said he believes the events at the end of yesterday’s match must be dealt with in such a way that a message is relayed to the public and that younger fans are not influenced by the scenes.

“I was appalled, quite frankly, and particularly at the nature of it… the eye-gouging, which is a new low and must be really penalised really heavily,” he said.

“I think an idea of giving a guy [suspended for] maybe a month or two for such an incident, it should be six months or a year, maybe two years because that message has to be said very clearly, it has no place in the GAA whatsoever.

“I think if there is a serious violence in the case of one person physically attacking another, it has to be called for what it is, and I think that is very important to send that message out.

“When you are promoting a game, especially a game as popular as the GAA and you have young people watching it, it’s what their heroes do and what their heroes say they will imitate, and I think we have to be very conscious of that.”

Mr Kelly also said it would be wise of the GAA to have each team enter and exit from a different entrance, as when tensions are high it is a bad idea to have the teams in close proximity.

“I think they just have to have two different entrances and exits for the teams coming on and off the field after a high-tension match of that nature,” he said.

“They are all going into the one area, even with the best will in the world something will be said when they are up against each other and it just doesn’t look good. You have an opportunity to remove that occasion of conflict, so the GAA will have to look into that,” he said.

Last night, former justice minister Charlie Flanagan called for an investigation into a melee.

Fine Gael TD for Laois and Offaly and chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Deputy Flanagan, wrote online: “Gardaí should investigate violent confrontation in Croke Park. Expect some in @rte & @officialgaa to reduce it to ‘handbags.”

However, gardaí have confirmed to the Irish Independent that a complaint on any issue of an alleged assault at Croke Park has not been made.

A Garda spokesperson said: “No complaint has been made to An Garda Síochána, at this time.”

Speaking on RTE's The Sunday Game, GAA pundit Pat Spillane was visibly shocked at the footage on air. He said during the coverage: "We should be here praising a great game, instead we're looking at disgraceful scenes. “Shame on all the players involved."

Watching the fracas unfold, Mr Spillane stated on air: “There was a gouging incident, this is terrible. Holy God."

He noted that there were “a million rules and regulations here in Croke Park, and you're seeing two teams running in the same spot straight after extra-time, it's crazy.

"You have fellas that are not subs getting involved. Fellas will have to get a red card. The possible eye gouging, which looked like an eye gouging, was done by a fella who was not in the official panel.”

He labelled the incident as “disgraceful,” and “scandalous,” adding “shame on all involved."

The incident took place at the end of the 70 minutes of an exciting game, leading to widespread condemnation.

Former Armagh player Oisín McConville said the incident was “disgusting” on RTÉ, adding it was “something we don't want to see."

Gardaí will only investigate an alleged assault if a complaint is made to them.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions notes: “When a crime victim reports a crime to the Garda Síochána, they take a witness statement from the victim.

“A witness statement is a written record of the complaint. The Gardaí then investigate the crime. Depending on the investigation and the evidence, they may arrest a suspect.”


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