Joe Kernan: GAA violence has shamed us all
It will perhaps be argued in some quarters — I have my detractors like everyone else, after all — that I perhaps tend to place rather too much emphasis on the manly nature of gaelic football.
After all, it was this particular element of the sport that I cherished while a player with Crossmaglen Rangers, Armagh and Ulster and it’s a facet that I have endorsed as a manager.
Time and again I have urged teams to strive to adhere to principles of decency, integrity and, yes, manliness when playing what I regard as one of the greatest games on earth.
But if the thuggish happenings in the games between Rasharkin and Lamh Dhearg and Dromore and Carrickmore towards the end of last year occasioned a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, then the violence which marred last weekend’s All-Ireland Junior Club Championship semi-final between Derrytresk and Dromid Pearses left me utterly disgusted.
Players tugging at opponents’ testicles? A player being kicked while on the ground?
Surely the GAA has not descended to such a low level — or has it? Former Meath player now television pundit Colm O’Rourke quite rightly makes the point that thousands of matches are staged every year without incident.
This is something made clear by the GAA authorities at regular intervals when violence infiltrates the sport.
And an ex-Tyrone player of my acquaintance, who actually attended Sunday’s game, stresses that both teams were equally culpable, even though some media coverage would suggest that Derrytresk were the prime protagonists. Be that as it may, the fact that an All-Ireland club game — it should have been a red-letter occasion for two small but vibrant units of the Association — made the headlines for the most scurrilous of reasons imposes a huge black mark against the GAA.
Quite simply, the GAA cannot afford to lose credibility in this manner. If anything, the incidents which occurred at Portlaoise are an insult to all those volunteers who work so selflessly at the coal face on behalf of the GAA — indeed they by their efforts have helped to make the organisation the biggest sporting body in the country.
Violence of course in any form is to be abhorred — but the nature of some of the acts committed at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise beggars belief in this politically correct day and age.
With hundreds of young players emigrating because of the economic climate, a potentially tense situation developing in relation to the payment of managers, many clubs and county boards under grave financial pressure and the Association battling for new recruits against the formidable challenge from rugby and soccer, the violence was akin to pouring oil on troubled water.
Yes, the Central Competitions Control Committee is set to act. And indeed what occurred at O’Moore Park has already been forcibly condemned by all right-thinking people who will obviously want to see the punishments fit the crimes.
But whatever punishments are handed out this may not help to dilute the feeling of disenchantment and disgust which currently prevails.
I fear indeed — and it pains me to indicate this — that we have been suffering from a particularly virulent form of the cancer of violence within gaelic football lately.
It is particularly sad that Ulster clubs have been involved in recent happenings which have blighted the Association.
Such events contrast sharply with the upsurge in attendances at the Power NI McKenna Cup fixtures, the high level of interest that was shown in the recent provincial club championships and the success of the Ulster Club Conference which was addressed by ex-Presbyterian Moderator Dr Norman Hamilton.
The Ulster Council’s Integration policy has been hailed as a model for advancement and improving community relations in the north while the Council’s coaching and development programmes are setting the trend for the rest of the provinces.
For these and other reasons, match violence can do considerable harm both to the image and ethos of the GAA in the province. We are in an era of instant communication when what happens on the other side of the world can be a topic of conversation here within minutes.
It’s hardly surprising then that when footage of an unseemly segment of a match is shown on television it triggers debate, speculation and indeed anger to such an extent that serious damage can be done to the image of a sport.
The dawn of 2012 brought fresh hope yet the first month has yet to elapse and already the GAA is being shown in the worst possible light.
We can but hope that this will be the first and last occasion this year that outright condemnation of gutter-type violence will be necessary.