Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Declan Bogue: Ugly behaviour at Ulster final an insult to all of us

Crossmaglen Rangers’ Aaron Cunningham has been hurt after being the victim of alleged racist language during the Ulster club final

After Sunday, it is clear that everything must change in terms of how we engage with each other in playing Gaelic Games.

Ugly behaviour at Ulster final an insult to all of usAbused: Crossmaglen Rangers’ Aaron Cunningham has been hurt after being the |victim of alleged racist language during the Ulster club final AFTER Sunday, it is clear that everything must change in terms of how we engage with each other in playing Gaelic Games.

There is a sadness that, in the wake of another fine achievement from Crossmaglen Rangers, that we should end up covering their win over Kilcoo framed in the prism of alleged racist abuse.

But as journalists, there is no greater responsibility or duty to report instances of this kind.

We are aided also by the bravery of Aaron Cunningham, who has put himself out there when he announced the alleged abuse.

Disregarding any of the events of last Sunday, insulting somebody because of their creed or colour is surely the end game of a culture of on-field trash talk.

It's impossible to pin-point exactly when personal abuse came into Gaelic Games.

Naturally there is a trove of anecdotes of smart and cutting remarks, but it could be said that traditionally, the nature of sledging was of the ‘cross that line and I'll bust you' physical threat.

Young, nippy corner-forwards were particularly susceptible to that kind of intimidation and it often preceded a veteran team-mate evening up the score.

Two old favourite sayings within most clubs were ‘You hit the cub', and ‘You know what you got that for', used in justification after a blow inflicted on a bully who, getting it tight against his direct marker, resorted to physical means.

By and large, everyone was happy enough with that arrangement.

Whenever a prospect was talked about in terms of getting used to senior football it wasn't taken to refer to his appreciation of tactical nuances reaching a sophisticated level, nor of his ability to fit into a system.

It was mainly how he got to learn the ropes of the physicality involved.

Sometime around the turn of the century, however, sledging became an accepted tool in a teams' armoury.

Details of gambling problems and rumours of infidelity or domestic violence — no matter what level of truth they were founded on — were cast up to players during the heat of battle.

That is a matter of public record. It happens.

Some former players will testify that personal abuse can be an ad-hoc thing. If you are a forward and playing well, it will please you if your marker resorts to verbals.

Once that began, they would feel assured that they were getting desperate.

Over the past couple of years though, it has emerged that some teams research their opponents in order to find areas in which words can hurt them.

One particularly crass example came earlier this year in a high-profile match when one side openly mocked the work of the other teams' sports psychologist. If ever there was a pre-meditated act, it had to have been this.

That's why, in a culture of psychological warfare, somebody is destined to say something tasteless, horrible and cruel.

On Monday evening, Crossmaglen manager Tony McEntee (pictured) was on The Last Word radio show and made the accurate point that — while he didn't want to demean the incident — he felt it was ‘top-of-the-head' stuff.

While it has been said that GAA does not have a problem with racism, that argument is on shaky ground.

Society has a huge problem with racism and the moment it enters the GAA, no matter how innocuous it is perceived as being, then it is a problem that requires resolution.

Unfortunately, there will come a backlash. As the investigation continues, we do not know how any action can be taken.

If the linesman Barry Cassidy did not hear any racist abuse directed towards Aaron Cunningham, or the referee Joe McQuillan, then there is a good chance that no action will be taken against the alleged perpetrators.

In the fullness of time, the coverage given over to the last few days will come to be written off as mere ‘paper-talk', a spark that ignited through the bellows of the media.

It's so much more than that. It's a chance for every player and coach to consider what kind of respect they afford to their opponents. Given that the investigation is in the hands of the Ulster Council, we can be absolutely confident that they will act decisively now and will plot a way into the future for this issue.

When it comes to problems of this magnitude, we are in good hands.

--

Ulster GAA have said there will be an investigation into the alleged racist abuse of Aaron Cunningham.

A statement read: “At tonight's meeting of the Ulster GAA Competitions Control Committee it was agreed to establish an investigation into alleged events at Sunday's Ulster GAA Club Final based on the contents of the referee's report.

“A group has been established to conduct the investigation and will be reporting back to the CCC in due course. There will be no further comment on this issue until the investigation is complete.”

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