Belfast Telegraph

Armagh must show class over Cavan brawl row

By Declan Bogue

There are two self-imposed rules I abide by when it comes to writing columns.

The first one is to never use the word 'whilst.' Anyone who writes a piece for a newspaper almost seems duty-bound to include 'whilst' in their copy. Outside of re-runs of Churchill speeches, this word should be orphaned.

The second is that it is an opinion column, there to showcase your opinion forcefully. While balance is a fine and noble aspiration it can often get in the way of ramming home your point and should be used sparingly.

So with that in mind, we have to examine Armagh's attitude towards justice.

The balance we will bring to it is to note that on a personal level, Paul Grimley, Peter McDonnell and all the rest of the Armagh management team are decent men. But they have been overtaken by events around them and have chosen to react in a negative manner.

When the Armagh and Cavan players indulged in a free-for-all before their game in the Athletic Grounds, it looked bad, because it was bad. We have seen and heard many arguments to the contrary, with some journalists justifying the behaviour by insinuating that an outbreak of such violence was an expression 'of who we are', whatever that means.

That, along with the defence that it entertained the crowd, is the most craven type of Parish-pump journalism there is.

Both teams behaved appallingly. Both teams received punishment. Cavan chose to accept theirs, perhaps embarrassed that this was their second time in a year to be up for this sort of carry-on.

Armagh didn't. They defended their players and sought a hearing. It was turned down by the Hearings Committee. They appealed it then, and it was rejected by the Central Appeals Committee. They thought long and hard about bringing it to the Disputes Resolution Authority but we all know that Armagh county board would blanch at the financial cost.

There are some within the board aware that they hadn't a hope of getting their suspended players off, but went along with the choreography of it all. Anything for a simple life.

In their one utterance to the media last Sunday, selector Peter McDonnell said: "We are not happy with the way the authorities dealt with this, cast judgements before hearings were heard. We are not happy with an awful lot of the media attentions that skewed what the huge reality was for Armagh."

Presumably he might be referring to how GAA President Liam O'Neill and Director-General Paraic Duffy commented on the scenes before the Competitions Control Committee decided upon a fitting punishment.

They both felt that the GAA was portrayed in a poor light by the violence. How could the collective Armagh management make an argument to the contrary?

On the question of media attention, again it is puzzling. Television crews were there to capture the whole ugliness unfolding. Plenty of spectators present got out their smartphones and began shooting coverage of Armagh players hitting Cavan players, Cavan players hitting Armagh players, and even spectators hitting players. It was a hot mess.

"All anybody wants in this world is fair play. We don't feel we got fair play. We don't feel we got fair representation. And to that end, it's fair enough to say that it has galvanised us," continued McDonnell.

Can you feel the melodrama?

Armagh requested a hearing and got it. They then appealed the decision and went through that process. At what point did they think they were going to receive fair play?

The answer is never. Because in their mindset, nothing but full exoneration of their players and an apology would suffice. This is what's known as building a siege mentality.

Teams have been using the 'Youse writ us all off' method ever since balls were being kicked from one village to the next. Some will say it has worked for Armagh, given that they rescued a draw from an Ulster semi-final when they looked down and out.

However, their way of rebuilding self-esteem, by embarking on a media ban, is tiresome and predictable.

Everything about this response results in negative emotions. Keeping up that kind of faux-hate for the outside world is sabotage to the soul.

Not only have they blackballed the national media, but they also refused to speak to the local newspapers – the ones that carry underage reports, fixtures and results.

The Armagh county board cannot be impressed with this scenario. For a body that has found themselves in turmoil, this is an unacceptable scenario. They need to act fast and demonstrate some class.

Because it has been sorely lacking in this episode to date.

Ryan's response to cruel loss speaks volumes for Antrim

There was a certain poignancy and that gut-wrenching familiarity to what happened in Ballycastle to Antrim on Sunday.

Antrim could be forgiven for thinking that they had Offaly's number this season.

Low-ebb and public humiliation at the hands of Kilkenny aside, Offaly are still a traditional hurling county and any win that Antrim get over them would be seen as a huge leap forward.

In the league, Saffrons manager Kevin Ryan threw a nice little rope-a-dope, fielding a second string, knowing that both sides would feature in the relegation play-off, which Antrim won a week later.

Then they also got the better of them in the round robin qualifying campaign for Leinster. Nobody was surprised at this.

In order to beat them in do-or-die Championship, they needed a few things. They needed composure, which they had in abundance throughout from the likes of Paul Shields. They needed their subs to make an impact, which they did, and they required a defiant goalkeeping display which Chris O'Connell duly delivered.

Many times Antrim teams have spent their journey home from far-flung hurling strongholds, bemoaning their luck and speaking of how they might have had to work harder than their opponents from frees.

But the free awarded to Derek Morkam, who jumped into Chris McGuinness and missed an interception, was brutally sore on them.

Brian Carroll's lob into the goalmouth then ghosted past a thicket of airborne hurls and bounced off the astroturf laid in the Ballycastle goalmouth to fly into the net and secure an unlikely Offaly win.

Television replays did not do any favours for referee James McGrath. Nor will it help McGrath with Tomás Mulcahy pointing out in the studio of The Sunday Game: "I looked at it on three occasions and I think the corner-forward was just turning the corner-back to let the ball inside him. To me it was a bad decision and one that will cost Antrim dearly."

It might have been easy for Antrim to dive into a vat of self-pity, but manager Ryan merely shrugged and said: "Sport is cruel and that's it. You have good days and bad days."

It spoke of a man who knows he is part of a long-term project. And that can only be good news for Antrim.

Belfast Telegraph

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