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Armagh vs Galway brawl: Tyrone legend says Armagh’s Tiernan Kelly will be ‘embarrassed' as attempted eye-gouge branded ‘appalling’

A mass brawl between Armagh and Galway footballers in Croke Park has been described as “disturbing” and “concerning” by Ireland’s Taoiseach.

Micheal Martin said what had happened at the end of normal time in the All-Ireland quarter final in Dublin on Sunday was “shocking” and insisted there is “no room for that in any sport”.

Irish sports minister Catherine Martin branded an alleged eye-gouging incident “absolutely appalling” and said any disciplinary action taken by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) must “send a clear signal” that such violence will not be tolerated.

Tyrone legend Sean Cavanagh said Armagh’s Tiernan Kelly will be “gutted and embarrassed” after the forward was filmed appearing to attempt to eye-gouge Galway’s Damien Comer.

Asked on Monday about the incident, Mr Martin told reporters: “I think it was a shocking scene. It was a great game of football and awful that it was marred by what transpired at the end of the game.

“And I think the Gaelic Athletic Association obviously will deal with that and will have to deal with that through its procedures and processes, but there is no room for that in any sport, and particularly when young people are watching their heroes on the football or hurling or soccer fields, they don’t need to see this type of behaviour.

“And it was quite, quite disturbing to see and quite concerning.”

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Ms Martin said footballers need to remember they are role models for young people.

Of the alleged eye-gouging, she said: “It’s absolutely appalling stuff and there are young families go to these games. It’s not just about young children who grow up to participate in the sports but actually it’s a family event.

“I know of a five-year old who was at that match yesterday, first time experience. They should have come home remembering… edge of the seat stuff. Instead they see sports players behaving like that and it’s despicable.”

The violent encounter happened as both teams were making their way back to the changing rooms following the full-time whistle.

A dramatic draw meant that the sides would be entering into 20 minutes of extra-time, but a melee involving multiple players from both squads broke out as they were walking off the pitch. 

Viewers watched on in shock as an Armagh player — since confirmed to be Tiernan Kelly — appeared to grab Damien Comer’s face and proceed to dig into his eye. 

“One of Armagh’s best forwards, Tiernan Kelly, seems to grab the face of Damien Comer,” Sean Cavanagh told RTÉ’s Sunday Game programme. 

“When it gets to that level, where guys involved are interfering in this sort of way, that should never be in any sporting field anywhere in the world.

“No one wants to see that happening. I’ve no doubt Tiernan Kelly will be gutted, will be embarrassed, will have to deal with a lot of repercussions in the aftermath of this.

The three-time All-Ireland winner also believes that sometimes brawls are acceptable within the GAA, but that Sunday’s showdown was “a disgrace”. 

“Sometimes this is OK, when it’s the playing members that are involved and it’s a show of raw emotion and it’s in the white heat of battle,” the Moy native continued.

“But then you get men involved that shouldn’t be there. Unfortunately, the two teams go into the one changing room. I’ve no idea why that was the case. That should be looked at.

“But then it gets ugly, when you’ve guys there that shouldn’t be there, that aren’t involved in the game itself, have nothing to lose. It’s OK up to a certain point, but after that point it’s a disgrace.”

Mr Cavanagh was himself the focus of controversy in an All-Ireland quarter-final nine years ago, when he pulled Monaghan’s Conor McManus to the ground. 

He received a yellow card for the rugby-esque tackle, but it meant that he prevented McManus from scoring a goal, with Tyrone going on to win the game. 

The backlash against Cavanagh was widespread at the time, with pundit and Derry star Joe Brolly claiming that “you can forget about Sean Cavanagh, as far as he’s a man”. 

Former Dublin player Ciarán Whelan was also on Sunday’s show and noted that the the non-playing members contributed more to the melee, as Mr Kelly hadn’t made the 26-player match day panel due to ongoing health issues. 

“It tarnished what was a brilliant game. Tiernan Kelly puts his hand in somewhere which is very very dangerous and is just not acceptable,” said Mr Whelan. 

“There’s a lot of tension at the final whistle after what had happened. And there’s probably more tension with the guys that are not playing, because they haven’t contributed to it.

“The lads on the field are probably more composed.

“And that was the sad thing: that too many people that weren’t involved in the game were the ones who contributed more than the players who were playing. It was disgraceful. It was a pity to see.”

The unsavoury episode resulted in referee David Coldrick giving red cards to Galway captain Sean Kelly and Armagh corner forward Aidan Nugent. The Orchard County’s Greg McCabe had been sent off earlier in the game for a clash with Galway’s Matthew Tierney.

GAA chiefs reportedly intend to review the incident fully to decide whether more disciplinary action needs to be taken.

After the match, Tribesmen manager Padraic Joyce condemned the ugly scenes, but said he didn’t personally see the Comer incident. 

“Sure, that’ll be dealt with. I didn’t see it. Honest to God, I was on the far side of the pitch. I came over, I saw scuffles going on, I tried to pull our lads away and that was all I done.”

Armagh boss Kiernan McGeeney said: “It’s not something you want to see. I suppose, this year, that’s two of them we have sort of been in. It’s unfortunate.

“But I always think those things shouldn’t happen. They definitely shouldn’t. But there are a few simple things we could do to stop it.

“They shouldn’t be going in together at half-time. I know how it started and once it starts it can get out of control. It’s not a nice part... I wouldn’t want to see it.”

Sunday’s incident is the third one this season in which Armagh have been involved.

A notorious field fight with rivals Tyrone during a National League match in February saw four of the Red Hands’ players sent off, with Armagh’s McCabe also leaving the field on that occasion.

A league clash with Donegal in March saw four orange jerseys red-carded, but Ciaran Mackin, Stefan Campbell, Aidan Nugent and Rian O’Neill managed to win their appeals ahead of an Ulster Championship showdown with the same side.

Armagh GAA has been asked for comment regarding the incident and Tiernan Kelly’s involvement.

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