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Comment: GAA is too tolerant of violence, it's not just a Tyrone problem

By Declan Bogue

An example of how the media can grab hold of a story and cling to it for dear life came in the form of the horrendous facial injuries sustained by former Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh while playing in his club Moy's defeat to Edendork in the Tyrone Championship on Sunday.

All the evidence out there was a picture of a badly cut up Cavanagh. The reaction was typical of the usual hysterical nonsense that is swallowing the media. On a quiet weekend, it was perfect timing, especially given how the ugly scenes in Friday night's Intermediate Championship clash between Strabane and Stewartstown had gone viral.

Only that week, Cavanagh had hosted a book launch for his autobiography in his hometown. The extracts have caused the usual initial flutter as people still seem in a state of shock that he might have had a less than harmonious relationship with his former manager. Sean was only after conducting a round of interviews with media personnel.

The image of Cavanagh was striking and provoked some into an instant fury on social media and phone-ins with the most strident opinions being voiced by those who did not bear witness to the actual event.

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Sean Cavanagh’s injuries

All the while the Moy club stated that the events were open to interpretation. They await the video evidence that is due from the county board, which has been held back so far.

Does Tyrone have a problem with violence in the club game? Well, all you can do is look at the primary research material.

One such material is Cathal McCarron's autobiography 'Out of Control' when he describes an on-pitch flare-up - "People get lost in the haze between passion and aggression. I won't deny that it happens in Tyrone probably more than anywhere else. When I was 17, Dromore played Ardboe in a league game that was abandoned. The two teams literally just beat the f*** out of each other.

"It was a free for all. Nobody could stop it. It was vicious. I was only a young fella, but I got stuck in and started throwing boxes like everybody else."

Or Cavanagh's book and a remarkably similar event when he was playing in the Club Championship against Errigal Ciaran 16 seasons ago - "I remember getting the ball, laying it off to a team-mate and continuing on a support run when Peter Loughran smashed me and I hit the ground, seeing stars and wondering what day of the week it was.

"Peter's blindsiding left me with two broken teeth, which were knocked out, a split lip and the blood flowing free, even though I was wearing a custom-made mouth guard. That's how strong the impact was."

On 'The Last Word' radio show a few nights ago, the journalist Ewan MacKenna got to the nub of the problem when he said: "We need to stop romanticising when we think back to the '70s and '80s - we talk about the big rows and the hard men and make heroes out of them."

That kind of myth-peddling is particularly prevalent among middle-aged GAA commentators with the biggest platforms, hilariously so by some who were terrified of physical confrontation. Go along to any GAA chat night and the hardman tale will inevitably get an airing. Somehow, it plays well.

Is there even an explanation required for the popularity of gombeen humour that is Rory's Stories?

Does Tyrone have a problem with violence? No more so than any other county. Peter Canavan is right when he says there is an agenda at play here.

But there is too much tolerance for violence in Gaelic games as a whole. In 2013, Cavanagh himself was lambasted in a very public way for pulling an opponent to the ground.

Four years later, in the closing stages of an All-Ireland final, several Dublin players did just that to their Mayo opponents as they sought to get a kickout away. There wasn't a word said about it.

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