The GAA needs to strengthen its approach to tunnel brawls and consider fining counties, says Ciaran Whelan, who added that Saturday night’s fracas between Tyrone and Dublin players in Omagh exposes the need for the Association to focus on player safety.
"I was involved in ‘Battle of Omagh 1’, but most of that was on the pitch and it was much easier to be able to identify people. (This time) I think it’s going to be very hard to identify who was involved, I don’t think there is any more footage in terms of what sparked it, and I think they’re going to be left with a difficult choice to deal with and they’ll probably fine both counties," said Whelan on this week’s Throw-In podcast in association with Allianz.
"The one thing I will say is that Healy Park as a ground is not very player-friendly, in terms of getting into and out of the pitch. (So) the controls in that tunnel were very limited in terms of who was let in and who wasn’t let into the tunnel."
Whelan’s native Dublin suffered their first loss of the campaign to a Tyrone side boosted by impressive kicks from ’keeper Niall Morgan and a late goal from Rory Brennan. The result, a 1-10 to 1-7 victory that rebounded Tyrone from a humiliating loss to Galway in Tuam, was not the biggest takeaway from the game as a half-time brawl between the players was dealt with by just a single black card to Tyrone’s Pádraig Hampsey. Whelan, who was involved in the famous 2006 skirmish between the sides in the same venue, believes that the violent nature of Saturday’s brawl deserves more action from officials.
"It was more than shoving and pushing, there was certainly a lot of striking action going on. It was a case that maybe Tyrone did step aside to let Dublin leave, and maybe something happened as Dublin were leaving and it seemed to develop from there.
"An area I think the GAA need to focus on is the safety of players getting on and off the pitch, and they probably do need to implement stronger protocols. There should be a definitive approach for teams when they’re leaving the pitch because we all know that the tunnel is maybe the opportunity for teams (to fight) going off the pitch as players probably know they’re in the tunnel and they’re away from the public eye.
"I don’t think that would have broken out on the pitch because players would have known that they’d have identified fairly quickly and hit with a heavy suspension, so it’s definitely an area that the GAA have to look at - we saw it in the club All-Ireland as well."
As for the result - which leaves both sides behind Galway and Kerry in the league - Whelan believes that despite the weather, the loss provides Dublin with a humbling that could aid Farrell in how he influences his team's style of play.
"You’d like to think that a defeat for Dublin is like a poke of the bear a small bit because they won’t like coming out of Omagh with a defeat. Sometimes you learn more in defeat and it will allow Dessie to sit down and regroup. It may give him the opportunity to start putting his own stamp on things."