Sunday 25 February 2018

O'Neill vows to get tough after Twitter 'slander'

Liam O'Neill
Liam O'Neill

Liam O'Neill is not yet 100 days in office as GAA president but he made it clear yesterday that he will not tolerate any slur on his character as he angrily refuted suggestions that the second-round qualifier draw had been rigged so that Cavan would meet Kildare at Kingspan Breffni Park.

The suggestions that Cavan and Kildare had been 'divvied up' in some way to maximise interest and attendance figures over Seanie Johnston's potential involvement in the game had been made by a number of current inter-county players on Twitter.

The suggestions may have been made tongue-in-cheek, but it was made known in advance of a media event to promote a video on concussion awareness being brought out by Acquired Brain Injury Ireland that he would be addressing the issue.

He described as "absolutely outrageous" any suggestion of impropriety about the nature of the draw, televised on Monday morning in TV3.

Several inter-county footballers and hurlers were among those who tweeted on the subject but O'Neill made it clear that he wouldn't tolerate any such commentary in the future.

"I wouldn't call it banter, it was one-sided and it was outrageous to suggest that a draw would be rigged," he said. "They called into question the honesty of the entire TV3 crew, the games section in Croke Park.

"They called into question my honesty and the honesty of Liam Hayes and the two cameras and that is outrageous, absolutely outrageous.

"It's not a random chat. If you want a random chat you pick up your mobile -- those players put it on record, it was done for effect and done to suggest that in some way we would collude to be dishonest... I can't see how they can justify their actions.

"It can be clearly seen that they were the sixth ball out of each pocket. I'd love someone to demonstrate to me how that can be rigged. Liam Hayes twirled them and I looked the other way and pulled them out.

"Why on earth would a GAA president lower himself to the state where he fixed a draw? What value would it be?

"But what's really hurtful is I have never ever criticised any player in my life as an administrator. And I find it outrageous that people would tweet what apparently was tweeted about us.

"The message has to go to the players that doing it on Twitter doesn't absolve you of the responsibility for what you have said.

"I take a very dim view of it. I am not going to do anything this time but it is something I am watching carefully and will not accept people slandering me like that.

"Those top county players have been trained by the GPA how to behave and how to handle the press and they know what they are doing.

"I haven't met the players mentioned. There are three mentioned. I don't know what I have done in my life to suggest to them that I would be dishonest but it is just not good enough."

Referees have also come under fire from players on Twitter. O'Neill reserved judgment on whether the GAA should follow rugby's lead by applying a 24-hour moratorium on use of Twitter in relation to matches.

"I don't tweet; my age group don't really tweet and it's unlikely that I will tweet. But if I did, if I had said some of the things about players that were said about me, I think the media and the players would be on my back immediately.

"I don't want to go on about it. It happened and I don't want it to happen again.


"I had to get up before 6.0. I'm not a morning person I had to go to the studios before 7.30 to prepare for it. I only met Liam Hayes a few moments before we walked into the studio together.

"Liam Hayes is a very sober type of journalist, not someone you have banter with. He is a very serious man and someone for whom I have very serious respect. His only comment on me (in the past) wasn't all that favourable so to suggest that we would collude in a draw is stretching it a bit.

"But for anyone to think that Liam Hayes would do anything other than the totally honest thing is outrageous and I'd like to stand up for him in the same way I stand up for myself.

"How long would you accept slander? There is a stage if people continue to slander you that you will have to take action.

"I want to put down a marker that it's not acceptable and it just shouldn't happen and I don't want it to happen again.

"I don't tweet -- it's not I don't want to, I don't have the time.

"And if I wanted to spend my life in negativity, I would spend my life looking at message boards and these fellas who comment anonymously.

"If people want to do it and express how they feel, then fine -- but I think they have to realise that there are consequences when they overstep the mark."

Irish Independent

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