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Eamonn Sweeney: Fair is fair – and foul is foul

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5 May 2013; Kilkenny's JJ Delaney and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy tussle with Lar Corbett, Tipperary, resulting in both Delaney and Corbett being sent off. Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final, Kilkenny v Tipperary, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

5 May 2013; Kilkenny's JJ Delaney and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy tussle with Lar Corbett, Tipperary, resulting in both Delaney and Corbett being sent off. Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final, Kilkenny v Tipperary, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

5 May 2013; Kilkenny's JJ Delaney and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy tussle with Lar Corbett, Tipperary, resulting in both Delaney and Corbett being sent off. Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final, Kilkenny v Tipperary, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Poor old Hurling Man. There he was, poised to describe the sending-off of JJ Delaney and Lar Corbett in the National League final as an over-reaction by referee Barry Kelly, a blot on a fine game perhaps prompted by the malevolent influence of 'football people' who fail to realise the code of honour which prevails among hurlers. Because that's basically Hurling Man's response to every sending-off ever.

And then the news came in that Corbett had suffered a couple of cracked ribs which mean he'll be out of the game for at least six weeks. He also had to spend the night of the game in hospital as a precaution in case the severe bruising might have led to kidney damage. So on this occasion Hurling Man held his whist.

The consensus seems to be that Delaney will get a four-week suspension, essentially pointless because he won't actually miss a match, while Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, who also got involved in the incident while Corbett was lying helpless on the ground with Delaney on top of him, will escape punishment.

Seriously?

So an off-the-ball blow which results in a hospital stay and cracked bones is merely a routine example of foul play? Nothing out of the ordinary here, let's move on to the next game. Delaney, a genuinely great player who normally doesn't resort to this kind of stuff, compounded his initial offence by punching Corbett in the head while the attacker was on the ground.

As for Murphy's behaviour? Suffice it to say that he is unlikely to win a Manliness Award any time soon.

There's a delicious irony in the fact that the victim of these assaults was Lar Corbett. Because it's only a few months since the Tipperary man's ill-judged tactic of running across and bumping into Tommy Walsh while not minding the ball in the All-Ireland semi-final drew a significant amount of opprobrium on his head. In fact, the chorus of condemnation which rained down on Corbett was extraordinary.

Everyone seemed keen to lambast him as a disgrace to the noble spirit of the game of hurling. All the usual strictures about going easy on players because they're amateurs was forgotten. It was like GAA pundits and fans had decided to get together and make an attempt at getting into the Guinness Book of Records for the greatest number of fingers wagged simultaneously at one person.

It was all a bit excessive. For one thing Corbett hardly thought of the tactic himself and was presumably carrying out the wishes of the Tipperary management who got off scot-free on the issue. But he made a convenient scapegoat. The real story of the day was Tipperary's unparalleled meltdown in the second half as several big-name players threw in the towel. But it was more convenient to lay all the blame on Corbett even though his misadventures didn't really affect the outcome of the game.

There's also the fact that had Tipperary won on the day, Lar's Lambada would probably have been hailed as a tactical masterstroke, proof that this time round, 'Tipperary decided to take no nonsense from Kilkenny and unnerved the champions by racheting up the competitive intensity.' You'll always get a free pass for gamesmanship if you're successful. It's when you lose that people start to focus on your ethical shortcomings.

Hence the reluctance over the last week to look squarely at what happened to Lar Corbett. And the odd spectacle of a player previously pilloried for what was, in physical terms, a completely harmless offence having to see the serious injury he'd suffered being made light of.

I have to confess that I'm biased towards Kilkenny and usually give short shrift to the notion that their position at the top owes something to physical intimidation. Also, I'm not incredibly fond of Tipperary. It could be something to do with the Tony Keady Affair. But fair is fair. And what happened to Lar Corbett this day last week was absolutely lousy. It's not enough to gloss over it and move on to the next game.

We're told ad nauseam, last week it was the turn of the reliably ludicrous Davy Fitzgerald, that hurling has its own standards which can't properly be understood by those who follow lesser games like Gaelic football. If JJ Delaney effectively escapes without punishment, it will suggest that those standards include an acceptance that cracked ribs and a night in hospital are a routine and almost acceptable price to pay for a player who gets involved in a tussle with an opponent. Is that really how hurling sees itself?

If it does, perhaps it's time for people within the game to take stock. Because a game which doesn't think there's anything particularly serious about the off-the-ball incident in the league final is a game without a moral compass. What happened in Nowlan Park shouldn't happen in any sport.

And if the GAA glosses over this one, there'll be more broken ribs and hospital stays to deal with before the year is out. Lar Corbett, luckily, didn't suffer kidney damage. But next time round someone could. And the risk of an injury like that is something players shouldn't have to factor in when they take the field.

Hurling is a physical game in which injuries are going to occur.

The irony of the Delaney-Corbett incident is that it followed a particularly stirring passage of play featuring several hefty challenges being given and received in good spirit which sent the crowd into raptures. That kind of thing will always be part of the game. The off-the-ball stuff is an entirely different thing.

Whenever you criticise GAA stars for foul play, their amateur status is always brought up. But this is a red herring. A few press complaints, or even a lengthy suspension, won't affect the livelihood of a player. But amateurism is relevant to the player who suffers an injury at the hands of an opponent because that injury can affect his ability to earn his living.

That's why foul play in the GAA is, if anything, an even more serious matter than it is in professional sports where a player will still be drawing his wages when he's on the injury list.

It's a lot easier to get up on Monday morning with a bad conscience than with cracked ribs and kidney damage.

 

Broken-hearted but we can't resist

I wish I knew how to quit you.

This thing between us has been going for so long. I've lavished so much time and attention on you and what have you given me in return? Frustration mainly.

Sure there've been some great moments but most of the time I think you just take me for granted. You don't care what I think. You just expect me to turn up because you reckon I don't have any other option.

I keep telling myself you'll change. But I know you won't, not at this stage, and it makes me sad. Time and again I expect that we'll have a great night together but it doesn't happen and all I feel is disappointment. Couldn't you make more of an effort? It wouldn't kill you.

You drive me crazy. Perhaps I'd be happier without you. Because every time we meet up, I seem to end up shouting at you even though I know you're not listening. And then I complain to other people about you even though they've told me I shouldn't expect any better because you are the way you are. You never change. Except to get worse.

That's it. No more. I've got my self-respect to think of. There are other things I could be doing on a Sunday night. Goodbye.

Oh hang on a second. Here's a new email. "This Sunday RTE will officially launch its championship coverage of the 2013 GAA Championships across television, radio, online and mobile with a Sunday Sport GAA Championship Special, a live broadcast on RTE Radio One featuring an all-star invited audience."

Hmmm, it does sound tempting. Perhaps just one more fling then. After all, the summer wouldn't be the same without you. And maybe everything'll be different this time. Maybe this time you'll try a little bit harder.

Won't you? Please?

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