Irish Examiner column June 5 2009

July 16, 2009

Colm O’Connor

If hurlers brawl
in the woods…

IT’S not usual for this column to open with a mea culpa directed at Gaelic football fans of the northern counties, but there’s no way out of it.


Last week we had a little pop at the Derry-Monaghan prize-fight – er, Ulster championship game, a testy affair that drew all sorts of contumely down on the heads of those involved.

And certainly much of that was deserved. It was unedifying as a spectacle, though that had a lot more to do with the game being the first big occasion of the summer than its billing as the latest marker in the world’s slide into a post-apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of the landscape in The Omega Man (still one of Charlton Heston’s best films, in our book).

Much to the chagrin of hurling snobs everywhere, then, we had a full-scale brawl at Galway-Laois in the Leinster SHC last Sunday.

Two players were red-carded in the aftermath of that melee, but once again we’re struck by a) the lack of outrage at this kind of violence because b) this kind of violence was far more dangerous than a certain occasion in Semple Stadium two years ago which drew the kind of reaction usually reserved for the opening of the Michael Jackson Tiny Tots Daycare Centre.

CERTAIN conclusions can be jumped to as a result of the contrast in reactions between Derry-Monaghan and Laois-Galway.

One is that everybody seems to have a hard-wired readiness to believe the worst about the Ulster championship. Granted, that’s a readiness which is all too often sustained by the actual evidence, but it helps nobody to operate with prejudice.

We’re aware that this kind of serene even-handedness is at odds with certain opinions expressed in the past, to which we can only say: people can change.

Another conclusion relates to the warm sensation that can be deciphered as a generalised hope that Galway do well in Leinster – for the sake of Galway and for the sake of Leinster hurling.

(That feelgood factor about Galway seems to permeate everything, by the way. After all, we just had a week in which every media outlet in the country decamped to the west of Ireland to rediscover their passionate interest in yachts coming into Galway Bay, while the local League of Ireland soccer club must be the only business on the planet which was able to make appointing Nick Leeson into a good-news story.)

All of the above shouldn’t make the Galway hurlers proof against investigation or punishment for indiscretions, and the same goes for every county. However, investigation or punishment seem to depend on one last variable.

IF THERE had been an incident in the Cork-Tipp game along the lines of the Galway-Laois brawl there would have been outrage: editorials calling on us to think of the children, etc.

The critical difference is that the game in Thurles was live on television last Sunday, the centrepiece of the afternoon’s entertainment, while a few scant minutes of the Leinster clash made into that night’s highlights programme.

RTÉ can take pride in the fact that The Sunday Game is a hugely influential programme which is essential viewing for sports fans across the country. However, managers who attack the show’s pundits for appearing to dictate the disciplinary sanctions within the GAA – step forward Derry’s Damien Cassidy — are wide of the mark; they’d be better off training their sights on the disciplinary chiefs within the GAA, who have let that perception gain weight.

(The pundits don’t always get it right, either – their focus on Cork’s Aisake Ó hAilpín’s legitimate pick-up, which was apparently whistled by Barry Kelly last Sunday omitted an earlier swipe which was what, presumably, the Westmeath man blew for.)

On that basis we’re inclined to warn those teams operating off-Broadway this summer: be careful that you don’t end up being the evidence when the GAA tries to prove that Pat Spillane and Michael Duignan don’t drive their disciplinary agenda.

An apology won’t do you any good at that stage.

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