Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Joe Brolly row: Honour kicked into touch as victory at any cost rules

Getting shirty: Tyrone GAA player Sean Cavanagh fouls Conor McManus
RTÉ Pundit Joe Brolly speaks passionately about the tactics employed by Tyrone and Sean Kavanagh in their All-Ireland quarter final with Monaghan at Croke Park
RTÉ Pundit Joe Brolly speaks passionately about the tactics employed by Tyrone and Sean Kavanagh in their All-Ireland quarter final with Monaghan at Croke Park
Monaghan's Darren Hughes challenges Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone
Monaghan's Darren Hughes challenges Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone

Let me start by saying I haven't a baldy clue about GAA. I have a vague notion of lumbering men with gargantuan thighs booting a ball around, but, let's face it, that could apply to many sports.

Yet my ears pricked up the other night when I heard Joe Brolly talking about the nefarious tactics of Tyrone in their defeat of Monaghan.

It was his impassioned tone which caught my attention, his refusal to be interrupted by either the host, or his fellow commentators.

When someone speaks their truth with that level of intensity, it makes you want to listen to what they have to say.

Brolly was talking about the culture of cynical fouling at which Tyrone, it seems, rather excel.

He was seething with rage and frustration after Tyrone player Sean Cavanagh brought down Monaghan man Conor McManus just as it looked like he was about to score (or so I had it patiently explained to me by my sports-literate other half).

Apparently, this is an accepted part of the game, not a sending-off offence, and that's precisely the source of Brolly's anger.

"It is absolutely disgraceful. They have achieved something absolutely rotten," he railed, hands waving and tie askew.

"It is the antithesis of what Gaelic games are about. You are supposed to be able to look your opponent in the face.

"What do we teach kids? Respect for yourself, respect for your opponent. I take an under-12 team. If any of them did that, they wouldn't play for the team again."

In the single moment that struck me most forcibly, Brolly said that, "Sean Cavanagh may be a brilliant footballer, but you can forget about Sean Cavanagh as far as he's a man."

Tough, tough talking and, of course, the world of GAA is in uproar in response. I'm not very interested in all the macho harrumphing, or Tyrone manager Mickey Harte's hissy fits.

But it seems to me that Joe Brolly's words have a powerful resonance far beyond the football pitch.

He is talking about something much more important, integral to the good health of public and private life, which has nonetheless become almost entirely erased from our everyday vocabulary. He is talking about honour.

Honestly, when was the last time you even heard anyone mention honour, in the true sense of character and integrity, a life lived in consonance with the distinct moral values of fairness, respect and honesty?

(And I'm not talking about the pious edicts of the 'Caleban', the coterie of punitive Ulster fundamentalists who want to shove their narrow-minded notions of good living down all our throats.)

Honour has become relegated to the misty, chivalrous past, along with duelling, twirly moustaches and frilly cuffs; cast aside as a redundant, old-fashioned idea which has no place in today's smug, self-conscious culture of advanced human rights and freedoms.

The only time you hear it discussed is in reference to so-called 'honour killings', where unfortunate women are murdered in the name of family reputation – which is a sick perversion of the original idea.

But, with the passing of the concept of personal honour, something precious has been lost. Winning at all costs has become the prevailing mode and it doesn't matter whom you have to trample into the muck to get there.

The very idea of holding yourself to moral account is considered weird, pathetic and naive – and that's if it's considered at all.

We don't have morals anymore. We have loudly-expressed opinions and desires. The sweaty maelstrom of vanity, arrogance and emptiness that is Twitter provides the perfect illustration of this mentality. It's a lawless jungle, both noisy and vapid, where bitter little men issue rape threats and everyone else tuts censoriously when Colin Murray makes a dumb remark about some woman's backside.

In politics, pragmatism has replaced principle, especially in Northern Ireland: in fact, our entire political edifice balances, precariously enough, on this unacknowledged ethical deficit.

It's why we keep knocking our heads against issues like the Castlederg parade, with its grotesque veneration of that pair of would-be bombers.

There is no honour, or aspiration towards honour, at the heart of our political accommodation. Just a grim, weary, fractious entente between bitter enemies.

In GAA, as in life, it seems that honour has been replaced by what you can get away with and still win. But, if you can never look yourself in the eye, then it's an empty, meaningless victory.

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