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Joe Kernan: Not television’s fault players are getting banned

Not so very long ago the GAA craved improved coverage from the broadcasting media.

For decades, the distinctive tones of Michéal Ó Hehir permeated living-rooms up and down the country as the father figure of radio sport vividly relayed the action that unfolded in various venues.

But while Michéal kept the flag flying, he was in one sense a voice crying in the wilderness, an evangelist who almost single-handedly brought gaelic games to the masses.

Fast forward to today and it’s all very different. The major television companies, numerous national and local radio stations, countless newspapers and a catalogue of magazines and other publications feed the insatiable desire for GAA information, statistics and, yes, controversy.

If anything, we have perhaps become blasé in relation to GAA coverage. And this week we appear to have pushed the barriers of discernment out even further with the suggestion that television cameras might be banned from some grounds.

Less than a month ago, the GAA season commenced on its traditional low-key note with teams limbering up in the various provincial tournaments in almost genteel fashion. Then suddenly the landscape was dramatically transformed.

Kildare and Laois players had a set-to in their O’Byrne Cup game, a quartet of players — including three from Tyrone and one from Derry — were banned after a ‘review’ of their National League game, three players were red-carded in the Kerry v Cork game on Sunday and Monaghan incurred a couple of similar sanctions the same day against Galway.

The upshot of all this is that we are presented with a major controversy surrounding the implementation of what are viewed in some quarters as selective disciplinary measures arising from televised matches in particular. But it is not a time for knee-jerk reactions. Rather, it is a time for sombre contemplation. If cameras were to be banned from grounds would those fans unable to travel to games be happy? Would sponsors be happy? Would the GAA as a whole be a beneficiary of this? I don’t think so.

I fully understand the frustration that managers such as Mickey Harte, Damien Cassidy, Kieran McGeeney, Jack O’Connor and Seamus McEnaney have endured of late because of the penalties which have been imposed on some of their players.

For all that, at a time when the GAA is competing even more vigorously with other sports for young players, we simply cannot afford to deprive ourselves of the oxygen of publicity, particularly through the powerful medium of television.

And this being the case, players, managers and referees must now assume an added mantle of responsibility. None of us involved in the sport want violence, cynicism or off-the-ball incidents. Nor indeed do we want the insidious on-field verbal abuse which still sadly blights our sport.

This, I feel, requires much more stringent attention from referees. It is undoubtedly a disgusting practice which tends to prove the precursor to the more dangerous physical confrontations.

There is little doubt that certain teams are featured on our television screens more than others and that’s understandable. If Manchester United, Liverpool, Celtic or Rangers are on the box, do they not capture massive viewing figures?

Similarly teams like Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Tyrone entice far more viewers to watch games than perhaps other teams and this of course means that any controversial incident in a game becomes a national talking-point — as indeed, let it be said, does any individual or collective feat of brilliance.

Twenty years ago roughhouse tactics were common place in GAA matches and while big improvements have been made in fostering sportsmanship, players can still react angrily in pressure situations.

Yet it seems particularly harsh that players who participate in televised matches should be more at risk of censure than those taking part in the many other matches which are staged up and down the country on any given weekend.

And while I recognise that it can be difficult for players to keep their cool in the heat of battle, nonetheless in incurring a red card they are doing a grave disservice to their team and themselves.

Perhaps the fact that the National Football League will now have a recess will afford everyone the opportunity to step back and reflect on where we are going in an era in which every virtually aspect of GAA activity appears to come under the media spotlight.

I wonder what Michéal Ó Hehir might make of it all if he were here today.

Belfast Telegraph

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