Sunday 8 December 2019

Public discussion the only way to fight anonymous hate mail

Managers, players and referees are all easy targets for ridicule and more sinister treatment

Former Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Former Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

There are easy targets and then there's hurling referee James McGrath. This week the Westmeath man decided to go public on his decision to resign from the national referee's panel after he wasn't chosen for next weekend's All-Ireland hurling final.

McGrath wrote a post on social media with the opening declaration that: "I'm not your second choice nor your backup plan. Either choose me or lose me if I'm not your first choice," Who knew a hurling ref could rehash an old Blind Date classic with such effect?

McGrath went on to say that his decision "has ultimately been made by CRAC (Central Referees Appointment Committee) for me to resign" and that it is "final and irreversible given the lack of trust, confidence and integrity by CRAC and I feel betrayed by the association".

His decision to retire as an inter-county ref got top billing on the 'RTE News: Six One Sport', where he revealed that "the general feeling among a lot of the public, friends and indeed members of my own club and county and community would have said that I had a very good chance of actually refereeing the final".

Just like that, McGrath stumbled upon the easiest way to ridicule a ref. The "choose me or lose me" ultimatum is the kind normally reserved for folk like Cristiano Ronaldo or Mariah Carey.

Using the opinion of those around him as a body of evidence that he should get the job as referee for the All Ireland final is further proof of how unnecessary parody can be as a way of highlighting truth when real life can do a better job of it.

McGrath obviously doesn't appreciate the traditional GAA algorithm which reads that the less we see and talk about a ref the more successful the ref tends to be.

Seriously though, the truth is that even if McGrath's words weren't blighted by disclaimers of egotism, he's unlikely to have received the degree of sympathy or understanding he was looking for.

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However, doesn't he have a right to express disappointment about a job he clearly takes seriously? And why is it that when anyone decides to do something different to others or stand up for themselves there can be a fast rush to the usual judgement of 'who does your man think he is?'.

It is this attitude - who does your man think he is? - which can be found in any part of Irish life.


It's like we have an overwhelming need to keep each other in check for fear someone might get that thing which will be the ruination of us all: notions. And the best way of remedying notions is to try and cut those people down to size.

A more sinister and disturbing aspect of GAA life was talked about this week following admissions by GAA managers about hate mail they've received.

Former Kerry football manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice raised it first following his decision to step down when he spoke about having "a box full of anonymous letters" and he also revealed that one of the Kerry players got a letter telling him to jump off a cliff and take some of his team-mates with him.

Limerick hurling boss John Kiely said he's also got a box of letters at home and added: "The anonymous stuff is just nasty. It has no place in the game. It's unfortunate, but its just there".

Former Mayo football manager James Horan also admitted that he had to bring hate mail to the attention of Gardai during his time in charge.

Irish Independent GAA Correspondent Martin Breheny made the point this week that "by acknowledging they got the letters, the various managers have, perhaps unwittingly, played into the grubby hands of the senders … given that the writers must have twisted mentalities, you can imagine their delight at learning that their offerings hadn't been destroyed within seconds of arrival".

It's an understandable argument. However, I believe the managers were 100pc right to talk about this. To keep this treatment hidden is to keep it underground and not let it be known to everyone the abuse they must put up with.

There can be a fear sometimes of upsetting your own people or, worse, a belief that receiving these kinds of letters is part of the job and you're expected to be able to deal with it. Let's be clear: it should never be part of the job or ever disregarded as just being part of the job.

Since this issue started coming to light, there's also been an easy explanation that the people who sat down and wrote these abusive letters could not possibly be GAA people. They could not possibly be those who regularly go to watch their counties play or have any real knowledge of the GAA.

Really? Why are we so quick to draw those kind of conclusions? I've no idea who sent those letters to Fitzmaurice but I'll hazard a guess in saying that we shouldn't make these people out to be the sort no one ever knows or ever sees at games. You only need to stand in a terrace or sit in a stand to see how managers, players and referees are all easy targets. The shocking thing about what Fitzmaurice and the other managers said this week is that it's not shocking at all.

Public or private, this should never be the price people have to pay to be involved with representing their county.

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