Wednesday 13 November 2019

Manliness isn't always about fighting back

In sport, there are many different ways to stand your ground, says Richard Sadlier

Fourth official Howard Webb restrains David Meyler of Hull City after a clash with Alan Pardew manager of Newcastle United
Fourth official Howard Webb restrains David Meyler of Hull City after a clash with Alan Pardew manager of Newcastle United

Richard Sadlier

I never thought the actions of a Premier League manager would lead me to share a memory from a schoolboy game I played in for Belvedere.

As one of my team-mates was about to take a throw-in, a member of the opposition coaching staff took the opportunity to headbutt him while the referee's attention was elsewhere. I don't know why he did it, and I've long since forgotten the man's name.

As you would expect, there was outrage among those of us who saw it, but the calmest reaction was from the recipient of the loaf, who just shrugged it off and carried on with the game. No diving, no feigning injury, no histrionics. He just shook his head at the actions of the man (who was acting as the linesman at the time) and took the throw-in when the referee eventually told him to.

Hull City's David Meyler was widely praised for his reaction to being headbutted by Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. He was complimented for not going to ground or exaggerating the impact of the contact.

It's funny how honesty is expected in some sports but avoiding acts of dishonesty gets you praise in professional football. If you don't dive when you could have, if you get up promptly from a tackle that didn't hurt, or you claim you're not the type of player who is solely driven by money, somebody somewhere will single you out for your good work, and praise you for providing young children with such an example. It's been that way for years.

Meyler's father, Carlow hurling manager John, credits David's GAA background for helping him to handle the Pardew incident as he did. "I think the way David reacted epitomises the way GAA players react, when they do get a belt or a slap, they just don't go down," he said. "That quality of standing your ground and being manly is built into you when you play in the GAA, you generally don't feign injury and go down too lightly."

I played both soccer and Gaelic football as a teenager. With the exception of the incident with Belvedere, almost all my knowledge of how to react to being punched or slapped was gained on GAA fields. That's where the action was. That's where I got to learn, as John Meyler put it, to be manly. From what I remember from those days, if you didn't learn to cope with that type of treatment, you were most likely going to struggle on the field.

I've written before about playing in an under 16 Gaelic football match which had to be abandoned by the referee when things got completely out of hand. A brawl broke out among the players as both managers repeatedly punched each other while rolling on the ground. There was no shortage of exhibitions of manliness that day, and far too many people wanted to stand their ground.

Not everyone has experienced that in the GAA, obviously, and I'd say very few people would have seen an adult headbutt a 16-year-old in schoolboy soccer circles either, but there was nothing superior in the teaching I got from the GAA in how to react. The main difference, if there was one, was the prevalence of violent incidents in the GAA by comparison, and the level of acceptability, almost pride, that that was the case.

These days, despite what John Meyler says, the sight of GAA players diving is not uncommon. Such carry-on is no longer unheard of in Gaelic games.

Of course, that will often be blamed on the influence of the 'soccer culture' but the violent abuse of referees is rarely described baldly as GAA culture even though it is a notable part of every GAA summer.

I dare say John Meyler knows his son better than I do, and maybe it was in the GAA that he learned how to behave, but people shouldn't read those comments thinking the same guidance is not available in schoolboy soccer.

And they certainly shouldn't accept that exaggerating the impact of a challenge is not a feature of Gaelic games today. Seeing a player go to ground easily is not that rare.

My team-mate instinctively knew how to respond to the headbutt that afternoon, and if he didn't he would have been coached how to handle it better. He didn't retaliate in any way and let the referee take care of the offender. There are many different ways to stand your ground and be a man.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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