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Joe Kernan: Image of gaelic football tainted by off the field issues

The best possible answer to those who continually knock gaelic football has been provided through the quality of games in the current Championship series.

In all four provinces, there have been some absorbing matches to date, contests that have clearly underlined the huge gulf that exists in intensity, passion and skill between the National League and the Championship.

The Donegal v Down game in Ulster, the Dublin v Meath clash in Leinster, the two meetings of Cork and Kerry in Munster and the two games between Sligo and Galway in Connacht have provided the kind of riveting entertainment that help to give the Championship its special status in the Irish sporting calendar.

What a great pity then that the Championship tends to be overshadowed on occasions by events that are not confined to the field of play — and indeed which are in many cases totally preventable.

Of late, we appear to have witnessed rather more of such happenings and these are certainly not calculated to show neither the Championship nor the GAA as a sporting organisation in the best possible light.

The sudden abdication of the hugely talented C J McGourty from the Antrim squad, the ongoing furore over the conduct of Kerry’s Tomas O Se against Limerick last Sunday, the festering sore that is Limerick hurling right now and the alleged stamping action perpetrated by Sligo’s Eamonn O’Hara are all distractions that we could well do without.

Indeed, these and other elements serve as distractions and mean that splendid team performances and towering individual feats are perhaps not quite accorded the recognition they deserve because of the focus on the rather more controversial issues.

The departure of C J McGourty to the US 48 hours prior to his team’s participation in an important All Ireland Qualifier replay against Kildare certainly did nothing to help keep the players’ minds focused on the game nor I’m sure did it fill manager Liam Bradley with further optimism in relation to his team’s prospects.

McGourty proved a revelation when he went in as a substitute against Tyrone scoring four great points from play and would undoubtedly have played some part against Kildare — indeed, his absence from the squad became all the more pronounced when only two players other than the consistently accurate Paddy Cunningham were able to score from play in the nine-point defeat by Kieran McGeeney’s side.

McGourty’s action in jetting off will be interpreted as being selfish and unfair — had he even postponed his exit until Monday it might have been rather more acceptable.

He is not the only player whose loyalty has come into question this summer and he probably won’t be the last.

And in terms of loyalty, few players have contributed more to their counties than Tomas O Sé who has been an anchor in the Kerry side for a decade and Eamonn O’Hara who has rendered magnificent service to

Sligo. Yet the battle which O Sé had with Limerick’s Stephen Kelly last Sunday and O’Hara’s apparent stamp on a Galway player were unsavoury and have resulted in an ongoing media debate in relation to the possibility of further punitive action.

This could all have been avoided had the ‘eye in the stand’ which I have consistently advocated for major matches been installed — lengthy bouts of speculation in relation to what the Central Competitions Control Committee may or may not do in connection with incidents highlighted by the television cameras do nothing for the image of the GAA.

The sooner that all disciplinary matters are dealt with more firmly by referees during actual games the better it will be for all parties — except those who transgress, of course.

I think it must be particularly galling for Limerick people to see the courage and commitment that their footballers have shown all but downplayed because of the controversy surrounding O Sé.

In contrast to their footballers, the Limerick hurlers have thrown the dummy out of the pram because they don’t want to play for their manager with several walking away from the squad — and the problem appears to be just as severe as ever.

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