Another Sunday, another schemozzle. After Donegal and Tyrone's bash on the way to the tunnel in Ballybofey, last week saw Limerick and Clare go into 'hould me back, let me at him,' mode in Thurles.
And while there was no harm done in the football match, the hurling imbroglio didn't just result in a sending off for Pat Donnellan which probably cost Clare the match, it left Donal O'Grady stretched on the ground and receiving attention after the teams had left the pitch. It was as though participating in some odd new form of half-time entertainment.
Schemozzle, like many another diverting English word, comes from Yiddish where 'shlimazal' means misfortune and we owe its adoption as the ubiquitous GAA euphemism for a mass brawl to Michael O'Hehir. You can even apparently buy a T-shirt with the words, 'There's a schemozzle in the parallelogram'.
Of late, it has been largely superseded by the inelegant 'handbags' which I feel lacks the rich and resonant connotations of 'schemozzle' even if some pundits, take a bow Kevin McStay, use it so often you'd imagine it was an official term in the rulebook.
Whatever you call it, the schemozzle is one of the most dispiriting sights in Gaelic games. It hands copious ammunition to the Association's critics, puts players in danger of injury and, worst of all, is a monument to the worst kind of boneheaded jackass stupidity. Yet it seems to be regarded as an integral part of the game. The schemozzle, it seems, we will always have with us.
The moral panic surrounding sledging and blanket defence, for example, is conspicuous by its absence when it comes to the schemozzle. Yet the schemozzle isn't just a more serious blight on hurling and football than either of these, it's also easier to tackle if the will is there among administrators and referees.
All the GAA has to do is take a leaf out of the book of Australian rules and send off the third man into any fracas, something which at least limits any altercation to the two players initially involved. Alternatively, they could go the route of ice hockey and make fighting between two players an official part of the game, allowing the pair to flake away at each other till someone gains the upper hand or gets knocked down. Ice hockey is, of course, extremely violent, but at least players drop their sticks before getting into a fight.
The problem with the schemozzle is that large numbers of players join in because they know they're extremely unlikely to suffer any punishment. It's just too much bother for a referee to hand out all the cards that are merited. This was the guiding principle behind the '99' strategy employed by the Lions in South Africa in 1974 when the yelling of that number was the signal for all-out mayhem. The referee, reckoned Willie John McBride and his cohorts, couldn't send everyone off.
Schemozzles are reasonably common in rugby where they are referred to as 'a bit of sorting out' and the like by commentators. But unlike GAA schemozzles which are shameful and show the savage mentality of those who play the game, the rugby version merely confirms the noble character of the participants. Any attempt to tackle foul play in either Gaelic football or hurling usually comes up against the 'manliness' argument, but the striking thing about the schemozzle is how lacking it usually is in bravery or honour.
The signature schemozzle move, after all, usually involves a player running at top speed to either shoulder or elbow an opponent, who doesn't see him coming, in the back. Other favourite moves involve holding the front of an opponent's shirt for an irritating length of time or putting a headlock on him from behind. Nobody is at their best in a schemozzle. It makes even the most courageous player look sneaky and treacherous.
It's about as manly as a bitching match between two drag queens as to who does the best Judy Garland impersonation.
Why don't the GAA tackle this abiding eyesore? A couple of mass sending offs for schemozzle participants and you'd find players losing the desire to participate fairly quickly.
There seems to me to be no good argument against such dismissals, though, as usual when disciplinary matters come up, I'm sure inter-county managers could find a raft of excuses to retain the right to brawl. "Suppose there's a big fella fighting a smaller fella?" "Suppose it's a player's brother?" "All those players getting involved stops the fight faster." "Something something, the media, something." Et cetera, et cetera.
So chances are we'll be seeing a few more chip van spectaculars before the year is out. Which is a pity because schemozzles detract from the good stuff which happens in a game. Witness the amount of coverage the pushing and shoving in Ballybofey got compared to the two excellent goals scored in the same game.
Enough already with the schemozzles.
Sunday Indo Sport