Belfast Telegraph

GAA was shamed globally by Armagh v Cavan brawl

By Declan Bogue

In this job, you always have to guard against complacency, being careful never to become what David Walsh terms a 'fan with a typewriter.'

But Ulster GAA in particular is a small world and you end up writing and focusing on a pool of characters that is not particularly deep. That leads to a measure of not sympathy, but empathy for the protagonists.

Imagine the relief that Armagh manager Paul Grimley would have felt at gaining a win in the Athletic Grounds, only their 11th out of 26 attempts since it reopened. How he was held up as a laughing stock because of his tactical approach a year earlier must have eaten him up.

Now, imagine if after the pre-match brawl, Armagh had gone on to lose. Make no mistake, the row would have been laid at the door of Grimley for a loss of focus.

We also feel for Terry Hyland, a thoroughly decent man who must be seething that his most prolific forward was ruled out with a suspected broken hand. He might have been tempted to think there was some connection to Martin Dunne being identified as the Cavan dangerman and any possible skulduggery, but at this remove it should be seen as a comment borne of frustration.

Despite what we feel about the way Armagh and Cavan conducted themselves, there is no way the home side could have concocted a plan to injure Dunne in particular.

Armagh wanted the outside lane of the pre-match march, to soak up the support of the crowd. This had been common practise for them and acknowledged by Oisín McConville when he explained: "We always wanted the outside... First, when you are in the inside, you spend a lot of time standing rather than walking and you are getting the full momentum of the crowd on the outside.

"At the time it seemed important. I would look at it different now."

Contrary to a popular notion, there is no protocol over the home side having the outside lane. For several summers, my own father and a Tyrone man, Mickey Lindsay of Plumbridge, were the flag-bearers for St Michael's Scout Band.

With children in the band, it was their way of spending time with them in their teenage years.

They noticed that the team on the outside would get visibly more fired up. So if Fermanagh were playing, Sean Bogue would station himself on the outside. If Tyrone were playing, Mickey Lindsay got the lane.

If Fermanagh and Tyrone were playing each other it would be a mini-jostle for the space.

In order for Armagh's plan to nobble Dunne to work, they would have required a reaction from Cavan. And they got one.

In the midst of the melee, anyone could have been responsible for Dunne's injury. Even his own men, who might have trod on his hand. How difficult would it be to injure a hand in the first place anyway?

Now, both teams cheapened themselves and their counties and there will be punishment. Last year, Cavan were fined €5,000 for their role in a half-time row with Fermanagh.

They can expect something similar, if not more. Armagh could get the same treatment and that's before any possible player suspensions.

Back in 2009, Derry and Monaghan played out an appalling spectacle, featuring off-the-ball wrestling and eye-gouging. At the time, apologists said it was "nobody's business" but that of the two teams. That was accepted and taken as the nature of things in the Ulster Championship.

That thinking is outdated. It's not good enough.

The world has never been smaller through technology, vividly illustrated by the weekend's game of hurling that we here would dismiss as a non-event, which tickled the curiosity of sports fans in England.

After hiding their light under the bushel for 130 years, the GAA deserves many things, a global audience one of them. It does not deserve to be defaced like it was on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph


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