Examiner Sports column, April 24

April 30, 2008

Have your cake and eat it

WELL, it’s nothing if not entertaining.

At the last count, the past fortnight has provided GAA events as diverse as Parnellgate 2: the reckoning and the exclusion zone around Croke Park for parking.

Our inner Einstein can’t help trying to draw such apparently unrelated events together in a kind of unified field theory of everything way – the brawl in Parnell Park a non-non-violent demonstration against the two-kilometre exclusion zone around Jones Road.

Probably a stretch, that one.

Events in Parnell Park defy belief. Dublin boss Paul Caffrey outlined last week why he didn’t feel his team was a dirty one, only for those same players to make him look rather foolish last Sunday. Either he doesn’t know his team or those players aren’t listening to him.

Isolated sendings-off such as those involving Mark Vaughan against Monaghan are one thing – a manager can explain those away. He can explain away his backroom staff running onto the field to assault opposition players if he sees fit, even if nobody’s buying it. Certainly a generalised dislike of the county team he’s in charge of isn’t something a manager has any great control over.

But a 29-man brawl, coming on the back of the last few weeks of Dublin’s disciplinary record?

It takes two to tango, or rhumba, or foxtrot, or whatever some of the participants last Sunday were up to, and Meath share the responsibility. What’s sharpening the knives of observers
everywhere is that Dublin have been getting nearer and nearer to crossing the line all season, and stepping over it so decisively and unambiguously is like a Christmas present for the commentariat.

What caused it?

It may be over-egging the pudding somewhat, but Meath had a tame exit from last year’s championship, and Dublin went under meekly to Armagh the previous week in the league. As a fixture to show you have hairs on your chest a clash with traditional neighbours and rivals is hard to beat. Maybe that was at the root of it.

As often happens, the associated commentary this week was almost as interesting as the incident itself. We were intrigued to hear Eugene McGee talking about the hatred that can exist between GAA teams and the mistaken idea that two teams can be all pals at the final whistle and put an hour’s combat behind them.

That sounds a bit extreme to us. If it were an hour or two, or maybe a week or two, it’s quite conceivable that the bile could still be tasted. But judging from Michael Foley’s excellent Kings of September, an account of the 1982 All-Ireland football final between McGee’s Offaly and Kerry, even mortal enemies can find peace eventually.

Still, the mere fact that a respected commentator like McGee floats the idea means it has to be given credence. His handle on that loosely defined creature, the culture of the GAA, means attention must be paid, and perhaps ‘good-natured rivalry’ is a loose term covering real enmity.

The most hilarious non-insight into the brawl and its surrounding mushroom-cloud of discussion came on Sunday Sport last weekend, when RTE’s Michael Lyster invited analyst Coman Goggins to comment on the festivities, saying “the media and the newspapers” would be full of the fight for the week ahead – while showing the brawl on national television.

If the papers and the media are on this side, are Michael and his colleagues handing down tablets of stone from the archbishop’s pulpit (The Diocese of Having Your Cake And Eating It)?

Anyway. To judge from Caffrey’s comments to this newspaper yesterday, hatred isn’t at the root of the trouble between Dublin and Meath. He said he rang Meath boss Colm Coyle after the brawl and they ended up laughing.

However, Caffrey said he felt the 16 players who faced suspension were being hung out to dry and the reaction since last Sunday has been over the top . . . while also saying the incident shouldn’t have happened and that Dublin are under scrutiny.

That being the case, he surely understands that that scrutiny comes in a context – that of Dublin’s performance this season so far. Accepting that you have a problem in the first place is the first step towards real change. But that raises another couple of questions: are Dublin in the mood for change? Do we want them to be any different?

And finally, we have to ask: was anyone done for ‘contributing to a melee’?

Contact: Michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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