Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Joe Kernan: Controversies must not tear sport apart

Mayo manager James Horan has hit out at ‘imbalanced’ media coverage

Don't let the great sports of gaelic football and hurling suffer any more!

That’s my earnest plea to the GAA authorities as we gently ease ourselves into the new season.

For far too long now, contentious issues have been quietly swept under the carpet, with the powers that be clearly hoping that with the passage of time they will be forgotten about.

And all the time gaelic football in particular has been savagely besmirched with successive controversial incidents tearing at its very fabric.

Both Nickey Brennan and Christy Cooney who served as presidents of the association prior to the present incumbent Liam O’Neill taking up office were at one in calling for better presentation of our games.

This being the case, it might have been assumed that at this juncture significant progress would have been made in this sphere.

Sadly, this is not the case. Just recently O’Neill, perhaps tongue in cheek, suggested that there were “about 45” people on the touchline at an important match in Armagh while the issue of ‘sledging’ has been brought into greater prominence following the incidents involving Wexford’s Lee Chin and Crossmaglen Rangers player Aaron Cunningham.

Unless the authorities are prepared to grasp what are particularly stingy nettles, then I feel the association will continue to lose some of its status and credibility.

An element of malice has crept into football that is unwelcome and this malice can take various forms, manifesting itself in cynicism, verbal abuse, time-wasting and gamesmanship.

No longer is gaelic football the manly, athletic pursuit to which we have grown accustomed.

Instead, dubious tactics are employed to win matches, the unwritten theory clearly being that the end justifies the means.

But this will no longer be tolerated by the fans. From my own observations, anecdotal evidence and liaison with officials from different counties, I am convinced that the GAA faces a fight to retain the loyalty and fervour of its fans.

The only way that this can be obtained is to offer a sanitised product that places emphasis on the skills of the game rather than a win-at-all-costs attitude which invariably leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

And it has become increasingly important that punishments are seen to fit the crimes for which they are administered.

Some of the suspensions handed down over the past couple of years or so were nothing short of derisory with players, some of whom were found guilty of serious offences, missing perhaps one important game or indeed none at all.

This makes the administration of so-called justice totally irrelevant and means that those who sit on disciplinary bodies whether at club or county level are merely wasting their time.

Seldom in its long history has the GAA been enjoying the media profile which it currently enjoys.

But there is certainly no reason for complacency in this connection. Only this week Mayo manager James Horan has hit out at what he felt was “imbalanced” previewing of the last year’s All Ireland final by RTE.

Mayo of course lost the game and Horan believes that the nature of the coverage in advance of the game did not do his side any favours.

There is clearly a ravenous appetite on the part of players and supporters to read, watch and listen to coverage of our games.

But this does not mean that people will be prepared to put up with anything. There are acceptable standards of sportsmanship, and dare I say it decency, that must be maintained if the association is to keep its hard-won credibility.

Other sports may from time to time cast envious eyes in the direction of the GAA because of the crowds that it draws, the passion it engenders and the athleticism and conditioning which its amateur players reveal.

That is no great surprise but this could change if the GAA continues to shoot itself in the foot — something at which it has become rather proficient in recent times.

It is high time that the GAA top brass showed courage and firmness in tackling the issues that are a source of concern to us all.

There is no point in paying lip-service to indiscipline or attempting to dilute the severity of what is wrongdoing by making excuses for those involved.

Far too often, those who breach the rules either on the playing field or in the corridors of power escape without censure and this merely encourages others to follow in their footsteps.

The dawn of a new year offers the opportunity for the association to go forward in a more positive, forthright and courageous manner.

Honesty is, sadly, often conspicuous by its absence in the GAA. For instance, when did you last hear a manager admit after a game that he clearly witnessed an untoward incident and that his player deserved to be red-carded? No, I thought not.

Maybe in 2013 candour and character will prove the mainstays of a sport that has so much to offer but insists on blotting its own copybook much too frequently.

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