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Brendan Devenney: Minor was taunted over death of his father

By John Campbell

Former Donegal player Brendan Devenney initially sent shock waves through the GAA following his claim that a minor player from his county was taunted during the course of a game about the death of his father.

And when the county's minor team boss Declan Bonner subsequently alleged that it was team captain Micheal Carroll, who was the target of that abuse in last Sunday's Ulster Championship tie against Tyrone, that shock gave way to revulsion.

Bonner, who played in the Donegal team that won the All-Ireland title in 1992 and managed the senior team from 1997 until 2000, insists Carroll was "the victim of some of the worst verbal abuse you could imagine."

The allegation that two Tyrone players mocked Carroll has stunned officials and players in the Red Hand county and led to Bonner describing the behaviour as "toxic."

Carroll's father Francie, who formerly played for Donegal, died in February last year from cancer.

A distraught Bonner is now thought to be considering his future as minor team boss.

"If this is what is going to happen in games, then I don't want to be part of it," he states, "Micheal Carroll has been the victim of some of the worst verbal abuse you could imagine."

The disclosure marks a new low in terms of the verbal abuse which is currently being highlighted within the GAA.

Both Bonner and Devenney now harbour serious concerns about the well-being of young players in particular within the sport while at the same time Devenney recalls "disgraceful" conduct that marred last year's All-Ireland quarter-final between Armagh and Donegal.

And he claims that some team managers are actually encouraging their players to engage in 'sledging'.

"The whole thing would turn your stomach," says Devenney, "There is the mental health element here and are players able to take what is being said to them? What must that minor have been thinking after the game?"

He warns, too, that verbal abuse is getting out of hand.

"A lot of players are at it. Donegal are at it," he insists, "The game between Armagh and Donegal last year in the All-Ireland quarter-final was desperate. The pulling, dragging and constant mouthing off the ball was disgraceful.

"Players aren't just deciding to taunt one and another, I feel they are being instructed to do so by management. The whole thing is getting completely out of hand."

The furore surrounding verbal abuse has intensified to such an extent following last Sunday's tempestuous Donegal-Tyrone clash that there are concerns this could be replicated in other games in the competition.

Ulster Council officials are worried that an epidemic of verbal abuse could impact adversely on the provincial championship.

While 'verbals' have been part and parcel of matches in the past, Tyrone skipper Sean Cavanagh's confirmation following last Sunday's game that these have become "very, very personal" has set alarm bells ringing.

The Central Competitions Control Committee has reportedly moved swiftly in a bid to counter the 'sledging' by proposing an eight-week ban on Tyrone selector Gavin Devlin and imposing heavy financial fines on the Tyrone and Donegal county boards following the half-time melee at the entrance to the dressing-rooms last Sunday.

Ulster Council PRO John Connolly, while conscious that 'verbals' is now a contentious issue, is adamant that the governing body will do what it can to counter this malaise.

As tension mounts in the countdown to Sunday's showdown between neighbours Monaghan and Cavan in the first Ulster quarter-final, match officials, it appears, are being put on red-alert. Crossmaglen man Padraig Hughes will be the man in the middle and faces a massive task.

"The council abhors this cancer within the GAA in the province. Obviously it is very difficult to police, but it needs to be affirmed referees do have powers under rule to deal with it and we would be keen to see them exercise this authority where possible," says Connolly.

"We have the prospect of a very tight, exciting game between Cavan and Monaghan on Sunday and we certainly don't want to see the proceedings damaged by insidious verbals.

"There is no place in sport for this sort of conduct and with the co-operation of the various counties we would like to see it stamped out."

Both Cavan and Monaghan have already indicated that they expect their players to be on their best behaviour. There is intense local rivalry in this meeting of neighbours and there is a feeling that verbal abuse could heighten tension.

Belfast Telegraph


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