Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Joe Kernan: Slapping Pat Spillane not on, but it’s still Donegal for me

Pat Spillane was assaulted by Donegal fans near Croke Park

Former Kerry All-Ireland winner Pat Spillane has delivered quite a few verbal assaults since becoming a high-profile RTE gaelic football analyst.

Slapping Pat not on, but it’s still Donegal for meBite bite: Caption goes here for Pat Spillane ???????FORMER Kerry All-Ireland winner Pat Spillane has delivered quite a few verbal assaults since becoming a high-profile RTE gaelic football analyst.

One of the greatest players of his generation, as a member of a legendary Kingdom side Spillane always allowed his skills to do the talking for him out on the park.

Since settling into the role of pundit, however, the Templenoe man has shown that he is not averse to delivering below-the-belt blows on occasions.

While speaking for effect appears to underpin the agenda of some sporting analysts — and here I’m thinking of people like Eamon Dunphy and George Hook as well as the loquacious Spillane — it sometimes can lead to the thin line that separates criticism from abuse being crossed.

Somewhere along the way recently, Spillane has obviously strayed into dangerous territory in this connection.

That can be the only explanation for the fact that he received what he himself later described as “a couple of belts” from a group of Donegal supporters in the immediate aftermath of their team’s All Ireland semi-final win over Cork.

It happened just outside Croke Park on Jones’s Road and my first reaction on learning of what had taken place was one of great shock.

And then on reflection I had to quietly admit to myself that this was something that could have taken place long before now simply because of Spillane’s penchant for stoking the fires of anger and frustration.

I have always felt that the role of a commentator, analyst or columnist is to enlighten people who have either attended a particular match or watched it on television.

Over a period of years, Spillane’s barbed comments have tended to become his hallmark resulting in him becoming a persona non grata in many quarters.

But love him or loathe him, you just cannot ignore him. However the group of Donegal fans who decided to dole out physical abuse only let themselves and their county down.

Spillane has certainly engendered annoyance, frustration and disgust in equal measure in recent years with some of his observations in relation to Ulster teams having been of a particularly scathing nature.

Armagh’s physicality, Tyrone’s ‘puke football’ and Down’s fragile defence have been roundly condemned with individual players quite often feeling the sharp edge of his at times acerbic tongue.

There is nothing ‘enlightening’ in this. Amateur players — indeed, players of any status — do not deliberately go out to perform badly.

Nor do they wish to let themselves, their club or their county down. Indeed, they make huge sacrifices to serve the GAA, particularly so at the present time when many are facing financial hardship but still continue to play their part within the Association.

To be castigated, ridiculed or lambasted on a national television station is not only an insult for the players to bear but it is also a heavy burden for their families, friends and club colleagues to absorb.

Players take grave exception to their manliness, loyalty or integrity being questioned although the vast majority accept that they can have the occasional bad day at the office.

Indeed, when a player does not reach his potential in any match, you can be sure that he will require no reminding of this from anyone.

Derogatory comments, thinly-veiled insults and caustic appraisals are unhelpful and indeed unnecessary in the context of game analysis.

By the same token, supporters who decide to seek retribution for what they feel is unwarranted criticism of

their club or county by doling out physical abuse do the Association no credit.

There is certainly a school of thought within the GAA that Pat Spillane ‘had it coming to him’ for what he had said in the past.

But nothing can excuse a full-blooded assault on someone in broad daylight on a crowded street. It is a frightening experience by any standards and I commend the Donegal county board and their very impressive chairman PJ McGowan for immediately releasing a statement and condemning in the strongest terms what had taken place.

Donegal meet Mayo in the All-Ireland final on Sunday week and they will take into that game the best wishers of every Ulster follower.

Jim McGuinness and his players will carry a flag for us all and I would wish not only that they should win but would hope that their followers enjoy one of the greatest days of their lives in Croke Park on what will surely be a glorious occasion.

I would trust, too, that the television analysis of the game will be fair, balanced and restrained.

And I am keen to see Spillane put his horrendous ordeal after the Donegal v Cork game behind him and continue to give his vast television audience the benefit of his expertise, enthusiasm and humour in the most constructive manner possible.

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