Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Joe Kernan: County players don’t deserve these cowards

Paddy Bradley
Paddy Bradley

The bonding that is such an integral element of county squads is one of the more admirable features of the GAA.

Selection for a county squad or, better still, becoming a first-choice player in the team is the prerogative of only a very small percentage of the Association’s overall playing membership which runs into many thousands.

It’s hardly surprising then that county representatives tend to be held in high esteem, they quite rightly enjoy certain privileges and they are often seen as ambassadors for the sport.

They make huge sacrifices however in terms of their work, private and social lives in order to carry the flag for their county on the field of play.

And while this can carry the promise of success and perhaps indeed untold glory, it also involves a risk factor.

There is no doubt in my mind that for some time now county players have been targeted by opponents in club games.

Players from the more successful counties are usually available to their clubs on a limited basis only.

Yet when they do play they are quite often the subject of vile verbal abuse, incessant intimidation and, now and again, downright physical abuse.

From time to time opponents are keen to show them who is boss out on the park by whatever means possible — and this is a growing cancer within club football.

There have been instances of this within the past two weeks which have unfortunately shown the GAA in a poor light.

And it is a great pity that when players, particularly high-profile competitors, return from county duty to assist their clubs, they appear to become targets for much less accomplished players who nevertheless feel they have their own insidious agenda to pursue.

This is very much a recurring theme and it is certainly not a recent phenomenon. The serious facial injuries incurred by Tyrone’s Joe McMahon while playing for his club Omagh St Enda’s against Moortown on Sunday will not only keep him out of action for some months but will have a considerable impact on his quality of life.

The outcome of the investigation to be carried out by the Tyrone Competitions Control Committee as to just how he incurred his injuries will be awaited with considerable interest.

In an era in which issues such as potential burn-out, player welfare and club loyalty are daily topics of debate, it almost beggars belief that players can be hospitalised because of an opponent’s thirst for recognition.

Certainly gaelic football is a man’s game but this being the case, by extension there is simply no room for cowards. And unfortunately we appear to still have a few of this particular species in our midst.

It is surely up to managers, referees, officials and indeed those players who are prepared to reveal what we have come to regard as acceptable levels of sportsmanship to bring those who would flaunt the disciplinary rules back into line.

Late challenges, indiscriminate use of the boot and off-the-ball assaults have no part whatsoever in our sport.

Undoubtedly the game is faster, much more fluent and certainly more tactical nowadays even at club level and there is a responsibility on the part of all involved to ensure that it is played in the right spirit.

We have had some particularly unsavoury instances recently where deplorable assaults have been inflicted on players with the assailant getting off scot-free.

I am thinking here of the disgraceful head-high tackle made on Cork’s Nicholas Murphy by Kerry’s Tadgh Kennelly in the opening seconds of the 2009 All-Ireland final. Kennelly went on to play a full part in the game — what a message to send out to those who are striving to make the sport acceptable to our youth.

Derry’s Paddy Bradley, sadly victim of a severe cruciate ligament injury right now, is no stranger to sustained heavy tackling although he has somehow learned to live with this while Kerry’s Colm Cooper is another who has shipped a lot of rough treatment during his illustrious career.

For me, the really surprising thing is that not more players have turned their back on the game and walked away.

I would hope that the GAA will clamp down on thuggery and that all players, irrespective of their status, will be afforded the protection which they rightly deserve while fulfilling their roles as amateur sportsmen.

Otherwise engaging in long-running debates on subjects such as player welfare and club loyalty will be seen as nothing more than a waste of time.

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